by Tony Attwood
We all know all about the FA incompetence, its wastage of money, its willingness to take on people known to have been involved in murky deals, and its utter unwillingness to deal with employees who are shown to have lied in court.
Untold also led the way with the original research which showed the direct link between international success and the percentage of qualified coaches per head of population. The link is clear and the research has been re-published in several national newspapers since.
But I thought it might be interesting to see if we could find other reasons to explain why England generally does far worse than countries that are a fraction of its size when it comes to international football. Which is not to say that England will lose to Scotland, but rather why a country with such an interest in football does so poorly at international level generally.
1: Lack of knowledge of other countries’ football
Very few English players at the top of their game play overseas, and many of those who try it come back to England quite quickly. So the experience and knowledge of overseas football that is commonplace among players, and indeed managers, in much of Europe, is totally missing among English players – and most English managers.
2: The simplistic belief that somehow our country is better
Nationalism and national pride are often whipped up by politicians who otherwise don’t have much of a message, but as a method of continuous growth such approaches are pretty much failures. Self-belief is always ok, and can be good, but not when it becomes utterly removed from the reality of what is out there.
3: Players who have moved around Europe develop a willingness to get together and work out how to make each team they play for work.
There are of course different styles and approaches to football across Europe, just as there are different tastes in food, clothing, buildings, and everything else. The more you see, the more you experience, the more you understand.
But simply experiencing foreign countries via a 24 hour visit for an away international, or a couple of weeks staying in a hotel during an international tournament is not the same as getting an understanding of foreign countries. Indeed it is probably worse than not going at all, since it allows the shock of the difference to hit the players, but not the slow growth in maturity of understanding the nuances and differences of life across the continent.
4: The essence of self importance
Foreigners are funny – that may be a parody of the standard English view, but there is a still a very strong sense of that. Whereas for many people foreign travel is a part of their lives, for many English people, and I believe for many English players, the aim when going on holiday is to take as much Englishness with them as possible. There is among many an unwillingness to embrace alternative cultures.
Of course there are many English footballers who do travel and learn, but I get the impression (and I fully admit it is just an impression) that the Tony Adams style of reality expressed on hearing who his new manager was going to be (“He’s French, what does he know about English football?”) is still prevalent.
The fact is that just because most English players don’t actually know too much about French football, doesn’t mean that most French players don’t know too much about English football.
5: A lack of encouragement of individuality and creativity
It has long seemed to me that one of the key purposes of the school system in England is to erase all sense of individuality and creativity from the pupils and students. The utter fixation with school uniforms and a formal style of dress among teachers that many schools in England have, expresses this completely. Expression in the creative arts, excellence in sport, and the expression of individuality has always been far lower on the agenda than encouragement of creative talent and thinking.
As a result, and of course this is just my theory, when those with talent leave school they leave either having had their individuality, creativity and unique skills knocked out of them, or they go full time into rebellion against all authority.
I generalise of course, but certainly if you look at school pupils and students and the way they dress in many parts of western Europe, and then look at how all pupils and students are forced into identikit costumes, for no reason other than the fact that this is what we do, it certainly must have an impact on young people and their subsequent development.
6: In all sports we need leaders as well as team players as well as individualists.
The problem is that when there is an inherent view that we are naturally better than everyone else, leadership qualities become warped and the motivational team talk becomes little more than “we are superior – go and kick the hell out of them”.
7: Britain is one of the few countries (the US is another) that has embraced post-truth-reality as if it were a good thing.
You say it, so it is true. Forget experts, forget analysis, forget statistics. These are derided as “clever clever” ideas and appeals are then made to common sense. So the requirement on Untold for correspondents to give evidence to back up their views, or at to make a structured coherent argument, are swept aside with claims that “I use the evidence of my own eyes”. Which is why they presumably believe the sun goes round the earth, the earth is flat, the moon is one inch in diameter, and the man 50 yards down the road is actually two inches tall – until he gets up close, at which point he suddenly grows.
8: The English are notoriously poor at learning foreign languages.
I hold up my hand here to my shame and admit it. I can say that I did live in a French speaking country for a year and when I left I had a certain amount of ability to speak the language, and could hold a conversation but I really do wish I had had lessons in multiple languages and the chance to explore them when I was young.
I remember Chris Waddle doing an interview about when he went to Marseille in 1989 in which he said that his Tottenham team mates expressed amazement that he was going to a foreign country. In the interview Waddle said that he was asked what language he would speak when in France, and he replied that he was already taking intensive French lessons. He then said that his Tottenham colleagues had said to him, “Make them speak English. Show them you’re boss.”
9: We allow the FA to get on with it.
It doesn’t seem to matter how many disasters they preside over, somehow the notion that it is the FA that is to blame, is lost.
This of course is all part of the fixation we have had in England with Thatchers comment “there is no such thing as society.” It is all down to the individual, not the group, so the FA can’t be at fault, it can only be the manager.
But organisations can go bad and if you want to see an explanation of one such, look at … the FA.
10: There is little doubt that many of the issues expressed here are fundamental to the writings in the media.
Such ideas are just replicated day by day. Radio, TV, the press and now social media, churn out the same messages day after day, without taking into account any of the evidence before us. So it goes on.
Can it ever change?
It seems unlikely, and even if only two or three of the points I have made here are actually true (although I think they are all valid) then it seems difficult to imagine how English football on an international level can ever improve.
One day it might if the FA could be reformed, but then with parliament allowing the FA to get away with murder when called before a select committee (see the last article) and with the media failing to hold the FA to account, it seems hard to see any way forward.
Untold will keep putting forward its alternative view – because that is what we do. It is in the name. Untold. But I think there are some things that are beyond even our power to change.