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The Three Lions of farce

The Three Lions

The badge of the England national football team

Talking about giants of any sport is tough,for even a single mistake in the narration might rob them off the respect they deserve.Hence,utter care should be taken while elaborating their achievements to make sure that the quality of writing match their unparalleled achievements.However,while skimming through the many giants of all popular sports I stumbled upon one such giant which has since long time been defaulting on its gigantic status.And that giant is none other than the England national football team,which we fondly know as ‘The Three Lions’.

First and firemost,I am darn sure that many of you already are already bedazzled by England national team and their star players –which is also quite inevitable considering the amount of focus this team and its players are always under.However,what I am about to tell you hereafter might leave you awestruck and ultimately change your perception regarding the English football forever.Hence,I kindly request you all to please buckle up and get ready for a cathartic ride for the following content might possibly evoke extreme reactions from English football fanboys and haters alike.Hence,it is suggested to exercise caution and observe some restraint — which will save you from the consequenting trauma depending on your allegiances.

Everyday,we are fed with all sorts of football news from around the world through various forms of mass media.However,if you notice them with a keen eye,you’ll find that the amount of content that we(Indians) are supplied from England is unusually high compared to that from any other region.And inevitably,as some might say,since the Britishers have been the traditional rulers of India,and there is an instant connect between us.I personally too don’t find anything completely wrong with that,but somehow,in this case,all the things just don’t add up ; more specifically,the end does not justify the means.I mean,projecting the England team as the all-conquering team,giving unneeded attention to some its ordinary players and thrusting to stardom and hence everyone’s throat isn’t justified.After all,isn’t media supposed to highlight people’s achievements(as opposed to anyone’s failures) ? Isn’t it supposed to champion the cause of the actual winners and put them on the pedestal ? I suppose,yes.A thumping big YES. And from what I can see, the Three Lions(apart from the fluke win aided by that controversial goal) have done nothing noteworthy in that regard,and all this while,they have only been underachieving with respect to their past accomplishments.All these underachievements or rather failures of their’s,I intend to throw light on in the succeeding paragraphs.

If you happen to meet anyone who hasn’t ever followed football,ask him one simple question,”Which is the most successful team in the history of football?”,and pat will come the reply,”England !”.Surprised ! Well,yes,that’s a fact.All everyone in India and many other Asian,African,European and even South American countries seem to know and care about is only England,its players and its famed league EPL(English Premier League),and to some extent about the Brazilian and Argentinian team.But what I want to say is,what have they really done to deserve such worldwide recognition and acclaim ? Oh yeah,sure,they won the World Cup –the Jules Rimet trophy — in the year 1966,some 45 years back from now — which ironically is a very long time for the originators and one of the giants of football.However,ever since then,this overhyped team has done nothing that is worth mentioning.Everything  has hone downhill for the England team,apart from the occasional flickering offset by the usual flashes in the pan ; in sporting terminology,it refers to the odd quarter-final and semi-final appearances amidst an array of poor results and non-qualifications for the major tournaments.Paradoxically,such has been the fate of the most popular and beloved team in the world.

It was the year 1966 (still widely considered as one of most important years in the whole English history) — the year they rewrote the history — when the England team led by Booby Moore edged out West Germany banking on a hat-trick by Geoff Hurst in a closely-contested match at Wembley to famously lift the Jules Rimet trophy.The manager at that time was legendary Alf Ramsey — the aloof,taciturn and often-grumpy coach who believed in doing things his way.Prior to 1966,they had only participated in only four World Cups,faring no better than a quarter-final exit — a 6th position in 1954 — which was their best performance till the time.They couldn’t participate in the first three World Cups starting from 1930,owing to the sparring,feuding,discontentment between the FA and FIFA,and the eventual departure of FA from FIFA.

England's one (and only) success

After their historic triumph in 1966,they were to ride their luck for four more years.In the year 1968 they managed to reach the semi-finals of the European Championships and came 3rd overall,beating the strong Soviet team.Two years later in 1970,they returned to the World Cup as holders of the trophy through automatic qualification.They managed to scrape through to the quarter-finals on the back of the individual brilliance of their goalkeeper Gordon Banks and their star striker Bobby Charlton.But,with Gordon Banks out due to illness and Bobby Charlton already substituted,England lost the plot against West Germany counterparts  in the dying minutes of their quarter-final match.To make the matters worse,their new goalkeeper committed some gratuitous and totally fatuous errors which cost them the match and ended their dream of regaining the cup.Thereafter,it shouldn’t be hard to say that the clock hardly ever moved further for them.

Their World Cup 1974 qualifying campaign was only a comical farce.They had already lost against Poland 2-0 owing to a Bobby Moore own goal and a Alan Ball sendoff,and the group was delicately poised.The final match of their qualifying campaign also happened to be against Poland — a match that they had to win had they to qualify for the Finals,and it was to be played at Wembley. Poland being weaker of all footballing teams,it was touted as a totally English affair; however,as luck would have it,it was a complete one-man affair and it belonged to a player from the opposition.The man in question as Poland’s goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski — who against all odds and expectations defied the strong English attack to single-handedly take the Poles to the Finals leaving the England team were biting the murky dust.It was the same sob story 4 years later,when they again failed to qualify for World Cup ’78 despite of losing only once against a surprisingly attack-minded Italian outfit.

It all happened under the nose of Kevin Keegan,their go-to man and also arguably one of the best players England had ever produced.As far as the European Championships were concerned,the situation was no different : they had failed to qualify for two successive European Championships in ’72 and ’76(which at the time included coming in the top 4 ; no mean a task for a new and just rebuilt squad)after securing a 3rd place finish in the Euro ’68 Italia.All this compounded the misery already brought by their disastrous performances in the World Cup qualifying games.And this Dunkirk was a combined result of bad managerial decisions and tactics,utterly reckless playing and scores of unimaginable blunders.It was possibly the worst period of English football when the whole FA lay on the ground — battered,bruised and completely down-and-out.However,something was about to change or so it seemed; their new team (after the dream team of 1966) which had failed them on several occassions and had hopelessly upended them had to go; it was time to infuse some fresh,young and creative blood in the team,which could enhance the status of the England team in the international arena,discarding the old guard.

After an indifferent showing in the Euro ’80 where they narrowly missed on a semi-final berth,England returned to the World Cup fold after a 12-year absence.The return to the most prestigious tournament in football was a result of the appointment of Ron Greenwood as coach whose impartial team selection criteria(for the first time a black player was included in the England squad) had been paying rich dividends till then.England began their World Cup campaign in France; they got off to a flying start with a Bryan Robson goal at 27 second,a world record time,and completed an unexpected  3-1 drubbing of the formidable French team.

England beating France in '82

They never lost a game in the whole tournamet ; in the final game of the second group stage they needed a 2-0 victory to fend off the challenge from the Germans,however,they could only draw 0-0 with the Spaniards with the half-fit second-half substitutes — Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan — missing clear-cut chances.

After the World Cup failure,Bobby Robson was tasked to manage the England squad.His spell as England manager started on a sour note,as England failed to qualify for the Euro ’84.It was a big disappointment considering the pool of talent that England possessed at that time,and he had to face a lot of media criticism for this undoing.The pressure was now on him to take England to the heights they had formerly attained.Their qualifying campaign was an altogether cakewalk as England stood group winner ahead of their eternal rivals Northern Ireland,Bryan Robson being the brightest spot for the Englishmen — having dominated the scoresheet in most of the qualifying matches.However,he was later to be undone by a shoulder-injury he picked up just prior to the World Cup. Despite of that,England managed to scrape through the qualifying round partly due to the hat-trick-scoring performance by Gary Lineker in the last game of group stage and partly due to a major overhaul in team formation following injuries to key players. Glen Hoddle was the only common element in mid-field between both the teams.Thereafter,apart from the 3-0 routing of Paraguay in pre-quarter-finals,it was all doom and gloom for the English team which came in the form of the charismatic, irrepresible and the legendary — Diego Maradona.First was his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal which dealt a telling blow to the hopes of the thousands of English fans and then was his would-to-be ‘goal of the century’ which all but sealed the fate of the England team in this tournament.However,they did provide some late resistance — scoring a goal and missing another(a golden opportunity to equalise),before going out with their heads held high.All in all,a quarter-final exit was by no counts a satisfactory performance for the team,and it added one more blotch to the ever-growing list of disappointing performances,or rather failures.But still,there was a certain hope left in the camp,which they hoped to carry on to the next World Cup.

Heartbreak in '86

The 1990 World Cup took place in Italy,and was entirely marred by negative tactics and cautious-play.The 1990 England team was largely a new-fangled team,with barely few players having the much-needed big match experience.The Golden Boot winner,and England’s hero of the previous World Cup — Gary Lineker — was back in the squad,and so were some other players.But this time,someone else from the squad was to steal the limelight from him.England came out as groups winners in the group stage,drawing against Netherlands and the Republic of Ireland and winning their must-win last-game against the Egyptians.All the while,the Englishmen were unaware of the hurdles that awaited them in the knockout stages.In the pre-quarter-finals,they were against a strong Belgium team who thoroughly outplayed them in all the departments.But fortunately,this time the luck was on their side.A Paul Gascoigne free kick aided by a swivelling David Platt volley went into the back of the net in the last minute of the extra time,taking England through to the quarter-finals; Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne emerged as their new hero — a thoroughly determined and deeply passionate player who gave all for his country.Next they were to face the Cameroon side who had upset the reigning champs Argentina in the first match and already had become a force to reckon with.This time again it were the last-grasp efforts that were to save England’s face.It was a see-saw match with constantly changing fortunes.England opened the scoring through Platt,then Cameroon inspired by their 38-year old super-sub — Roger Milla — fought back hard and changed the whole scenario,bringing them 2-1 in the lead.But,England’s previous World Cup hero Gary Lineker was in no mood to concede and hit two bulls-eye penalties,one in the 83rd and other in the 105th minutes,to almost single-handedly take them to the semis.In the semis,they faced their archnemesis West Germany where they opened the scoring with a Andreas Brehme free kick at 60th minute aided by a heavy deflection off Paul Parker.With 10 minutes of the match remaining,it was again left to England’s eternal saviour Gary Lineker to square things up and take the game to extra time by scoring a goal from a lovely cross from the now redemptive Paul Parker.In the extra time,the world saw a highly mawkish and popularised picture of an openly weepy Paul Gascoigne wiping tears with t-shirt owing to a second yellow card in the match essentialy ruling him out of the finals if England were to go through.However,that was not to be as the Germans gave little chance to the rivals,dominating the proceedings and winning the penalty shootout 4-3 to reach their third consecutive final.For England though,it was yet another defeat — but,the spirit and the manner in which they were defeated was surely going to make them proud.A bunch of nobodies had proved themselves as,if not the best,atleast one of best.The most remarkable thing about this team and its most defining element was their determination,grit,their will to succeed and their never-say-die attitude; also,the fact that they actually worked as a team worked to their advantage.This players of this class of 90 were amongst the most patriotic bunch to ever represent their country.

Tears in 1990

Immediately following the decent showing by the England team in the 1990 World Cup,Graham Taylor was made the manager of the team — which threw  a huge spanner in the works.The Graham Taylor period was marked by resentment of the press against him,despite of his decent track record.His reign as manager of the England team was peppered with many incidents of squabbles and strife between him and the players as well as between him and the media.There was bitter acrimony for quite some time,though his England team did qualify for the Euro ’92 competition and even made it to the quarter-finals.But,all hell broke loose after their defeat against Sweden in the quarters where he deliberately substituted Gary Lineker.Dissatisfaction grew among the players and media regarding his questionable tactics and his risky decisions in must-win games.It all had to end one day,and it finally did.England lost against Netherlands in their must-win penultimate of the qualifying,while also losing to Norway and drawing with Poland on the way.England,this time,were utterly humiliated and debased.It was the lowest point of Graham Taylor’s managerial phase,and to some part it was responsible for bringing curtains to the glorious career of England legend Gary Lineker.

England football needed a welcome boost at that point,and it came in the form of  Terry Venables — who was appointed as the ‘coach’(rather than ‘manager’) of England.This,slightly reduced role for him was due to his shady non-footballing activities due to which he had vowed to resign from his post if he didn’t get complete backing from the board — which later he did.His tenure as England manager proved out to be one of the most successful with England losing only one of the 23 matches.During his tenure they also managed to reach the semi-finals of Euro ’96 on their home turf,losing out to the eventual winners Germany in penalty shootout.However,Terry Venables stuck to his promise and resigned after the tournament and Glen Hoddle was brought in his place,but as a manager this time.Terry Venables had succeeded in doing his job and had done one most important thing — which was — bringing confidence back into the England camp.The Glen Hoddle-era saw the emergence of new young talents in form of Michael Owen and David Beckham.With his appointment changed the whole setup of the team — giving away the defensive formation to a more attacking one.These changes proved fruitful big time — as they emerged group winners during the qualifications with their only loss coming against the mighty Italians.However,they suffered a brief setback — a 1-2 loss against Romania — after a fluent win against Tunisia.As Owen had scored in their loss against Romania,the coach had a sudden change of mind and started with Owen and Beckham in their must-win encounter against Columbia.This faith in youngsters did pay reward as England scored a memorable 2-0 win against Columbia with the highlight of the game being Beckham’s stunning free kick from afar.Although,noone knew that this hero of their’s was soon to become their biggest bete-noire.In the pre-quarter-finals against Argentina,things weren’t as rosy as in their last match for Hoddle’s men; England,down 1-0 after five minutes of time,struck back through a Alan Shearer penalty to level things up.Then,few minutes later,Michael Owen(the youngest player ever to represent England) scored the goal of his life — which catapulted him to fame,a brilliant individual goal which gave England a 2-1 lead in the match.Although England had played brilliant throughout the match even with one man down,the match ended in a draw as Javier Zanetti struck early in the second half to square things up again.It was then left to the penalty shootouts where Argentina won 4-3 thanks to misses by Paul Ince and David Batty.The game,however,remained immemorable to English fans for an altogether different reason; David Beckham was instantly red-carded and sent off for kicking Diego Simeone after he had fouled him.His one mistimed and miscalculated move was enough to draw public ire and make him Public Enemy #1.He,thus,transformed himself overnight from a honourable love figure to a publicly vilified hate figure.Meanwhile,Glen Hoddle — the evangelist,whose liaison with faith and cult had become inscrutable and overblown by that time was sacked from the managerial job owing to his remarks against the disabled.

Red in 1996

Kevin Keegan,then took over as the manager of the England team.His stint as England manager started on a positive note as England won 3-1 against Poland with some help from Scholes to put England’s Euro 2000 qualifying campaign back on track.This led to the qualification playoff against Scotland where they won one and lost one,going ahead on away goals — with Scholes again coming to the rescue.In the Euro’s they were drawn in a group with Portugal,former champions Germany and Romania.They lost against Portugal and Romania despite of taking early lead,however they did beat their bitter rivals Germany 1-0.Eventually,with one point short of Romania in that group,England were eliminated in the group stage itself.Kevin Keegan resigned soon after,following a depressing 1-0 loss to Germany in a World Cup qualifying match.

The FA(Football Association) were desperately in needed of a credible manager with vast and rich managerial experience as threat of qualifying for the World Cup loomed over head.They found the perfect candidate for the job in Sven-Göran Eriksson.

England go international

With Eriksson’s appointment,he also became the first foreign manager to coach England.His impact on the team was instant — as he gathered all the players,organised them and streamlining their skills.One of the better things he did was establishing the trust of players like Gerrard,Lampard et al on him.The result was clearly visible — as they completely obliterated Germany — a 5-1 drubbing which featured a Michael Owen hat trick — all under the captainship of David Beckham.They went on to top the group then,securing an easy passage to the World Cup.By this time,three men — the manager,Owen and Beckham — had started to wield huge influence over the team,and their performance almost controlled the fate of the game; one of them especially was soon to prove himself in the World Cup.

If 1998 was all about the everlasting damage that Beckham did to English football,then World Cup 2002 was all about his phenomenal form,his mindblowing performances and his spiralling success.Despite of not having fully recovered from a injury,Beckham led the team in the World Cup which took place in Japan and Korea.England didn’t started well,drawing 1-1 against Sweden,but then came their prize catch; they defeated former champions Argentina through a clumsily-taken David Beckham penalty — who to a large extent also redeemed himself in the eyes of the devouring English fans.With a draw against Nigeria in their last group game,they also qualified for knockout stages where they met Denmark.The Danes had been impressive in their runup to the pre-quarter-finals.So,they posed a big threat to England’s chances,but England players hardly gave them any chance and coasted to a easy 3-0 win.In the quarter-finals they faced four-time champions Brazil; in addition to pitting two formidable attacking sides,it also pitted one free kick maestro i.e Beckham against another mid-field meister i.e Ronaldinho.The quarter-final encounter started on a good note with Owen slotting home a goal in the 23rd minute.But,instead of discouraging,this disastrous start had a motivational effect on the Brazilians,galvanising them — as their movements become more nimble than ever,and there was sudden upswing in their form.Brazil soon equalised through Rivaldo two minutes before the break,and then they wasted no time in taking the lead through a surreal-looking Ronaldinho free kick which was 35 yards out.Meanwhile,England had given up on all hopes of progressing.They hardly ever tried in the match after that,not making even a single encouraging move before meekly capitulating to their more successful rivals and eventual winners,Brazil.

In the run up to the Euro 2004,England played quite upto their potential,winning all matches in the qualifying rounds and easily securing a spot in the tournament which was to be held in Portugal.They started their Euro ’04 with a loss 1-2 loss against,which was mostly a result of the individual genius of Zinedine Zidane and a couple of errors commited by Beckham.But,they won their remaining two group matches to progress to the quarter-finals.There,they faced off against Portugal — where despite of dominating the whole game,they couldn’t save it from going to the penalty shootouts.Ultimately,they lost in the penalty shootout 6-5 with David Beckham and Darius Vassell missing their respective spot-kicks,thus succumbing them to another lame exit.

England’s 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign was a sound affair; England lost only once against Northern Ireland in Belfast by a 0-1 margin,and although it was Eriksson’s first loss in a major match as a manager — it was sufficient to tarnish his reputation as a efficient manager — as a defeat against any British nation would always be considered as a humiliation.Thus ensued the period of his prolonged criticism and slandering,after which — in the beginning of 2006 — the FA announced that he was set to leave the England job after the World Cup.

With the England team comprised of an array of football superstars — partly owing to the popularity of the English clubs — England started the tournament as firm favorites.They played upto their billing — winning their first two matches and drawing their final match in the group against Sweden which took them to the round of 16,opposite Ecquador.They face some resistance from the well-drilled Ecquador squad,but nevertheless coasted to a 1-0 win through a Beckham free kick.In the quarter-finals,they were up against Portugal — the team that had knocked them out of Euro ’04 two years back.Their lousy play against Portugal cost them,and in what was a repeat of their Euro ’04 match,England were sent packing by Portugal on penalties after extra time produced no goals from either ends.The match became infamous for the controversial sending off of Wayne Rooney after his deliberate stamping on Ricardo Carvalho.Ergo,what became clear after their disappointing World Cup was this : England team with all their star players lacked the required cohesiveness and the X-factor for a team to work,also their commitment and determination for the cause of the team was seriously questionable.Most importantly,it lay open one vital thing open for all to see : England players didn’t possess the football skills required to deserve the tag of top-class footballers ; moroever,it was the foreign players in the English clubs that were responsible for the clubs’ success and not the domestic players.

Red redux in 2006

With the outcome of  World Cup still on everyone’s minds,out went Eriksson and in came his assistant Steve Mclaren.Mclaren’s regime as England manager didn’t turn out that well as England failed to qualify for Euro ’08 after almost 24 years.Steve Mclaren had failed miserably as a manager as they were luckily given quite an easy group and all their losses had come against relatively weaker teams like Russia and Croatia.Taking all these factors into consideration,the FA unanimously decided to remove him from his job and elect Fabio Capello as the next England manager.Thus,ended the tenure of one of the least successful managers of England.

With an Italian(read Fabio Capello) now at the helm,things were about to change in a big way.Being a disciplinarian himself,he curbed all the riches and lavish habits of all players.He also introduced a rotation system for captaincy which saw captain’s armband alternating in the hands of Beckham,Gerrard,Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.

England had secured an easy group in the World Cup qualifications,and their’s was a successful qualifying campaign where they only lost against Ukraine.Meanwhile,they had also played several friendlies prior to the World Cup — securing important wins against Germany and Mexico while suffering losses at the hands of France,Brazil and Spain.In the World Cup in South Africa,England played terribly; they had an almost forgettable World Cup where they hardly showed any footballing talent.The only reason the proceeded forward the group stage was due to their generous amount of luck and insignificance of other team .They only managed one win — a 1-0 win against Slovenia — drawing both other group matches(first a 1-1 draw against US and second a stalemate against Algeria).They also didn’t any wonders in the round of 16 where they were steamrolled 1-4 by a brilliantly-attacking German side.This time again,as in the past,the hopes of millions of England fans were reduced.This was the nth that the England team and its players were talked highly of but had performed nada compared to their reputation.

Basically,if we look at the performances of the England team starting from the 1950s — and peruse their achievements with a eagle-eye,we will see that they have hardly achieved anything in their supposedly rich history.The only time they stood winner was when they had one of their invalid goal allowed — which worked to their advantage and helped them secure the title.Rest all the times they have never gone beyond the semi-finals.Another aspect that is startling is that,everyone that gone on to represent England and possessed decent footballing skills was at some point or other touted as the next football superstar; it can be said of Bobby Moore,Bobby Charlton,Geoff Hurst,Gordon Banks,Bobby Robson,Kevin Keegan,Glen Hoddle,Gary Lineker,David Platt,Paul Gascoigne,Alan Shearer,David Beckham,Michael Owen,Paul Scholes,Steven Gerrard,Frank Lampard,John Terry,Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere(now).However,apart from a few players like Geoff Hurst,Bobby Charlton and to a certain extent Gordon Banks,hardly anyone has done anything remarkable for England in the whole football career — or for that matter — achieved anything worth mentioning.Recent examples like Wayne Rooney give a clear picture of how beneficial they have been to the team(irony intended).Like him,all others have been super-flop(to say the least) as a vital element of  The Three Lions.Also,if we compare these players to their counterparts from Brazil,Hungary,Italy,Germany,Netherlands,France and Spain etc.,they appear to be several notches lower than their foreign counterparts.For instance,noone — not even a single football enthusiast must have heard of Gerd Muller of Germany —  highest scorer in the World Cups then — but must surely be aware of all the exploits of  the great Bobby Charlton of Manchester United.Not that Bobby Charlton was any lesser footballer,but there have been better footballers than Englishmen who haven’t got their due credit and hence have faded into obscurity.The point the title tries to underline here is,that ‘The Three Lions are no more than cats and kittens,so if you are looking for the real lions,then you might have to look somewhere else’.

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