Football Comment: England’s left-field conspiracy | Simon Burnton

If the point of the England players taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem at their post-match interviews on Saturday was to dignify the flagging atmosphere following the World Cup defeat, then it will be a high misjudgment. Never has a protest about football been meant to rupture the national football family.

This World Cup has been marred by the lack of patriotism that was thought to have been eradicated from this country following the victory of our football team in 1990. Of course there has always been dissent about England’s performances, but many fans prefer their teams to play with more panache and class and are more offended by tedious defensive displays than anything else. And even those players who accept they aren’t good enough would normally have stayed on their seats or even on the pitch during the national anthem.

Of course most supporters are enthusiastic and proud of England’s performance in Russia – they were proud of England’s victory over Panama in their opening match, too – but the desire to show real affection for their team has vanished. For many, England’s performance was not only insulting but also a disgrace. I’m sure that many of us will need to make amends with the team if they are to progress and win the next tournament in Qatar.

What did they say, really? “We’re not good enough. We’re all good enough.” It was appalling to hear the players slating the manager Gareth Southgate’s tactics, and the team afterwards were doing very little to reassure their doubters. Players such as Gary Cahill, who refused to applaud the crowd when he emerged on the pitch, and who won the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament, tried to appease the crowd with an apology. But these players are terrible tacticians. Their gameplan has been to sit back and pass the ball long into space for Dele Alli, and beyond him. They know the press have accused them of trying to dazzle the opposing goalkeeper with trick passes but get nowhere near the striker, Harry Kane. It is the player of the tournament who has made the most shots on target and the saves and made the least mistakes and who has missed the most penalty kicks and won the game. There is no need to worry that England will “pass the ball too much”. Now they have been caught up in a Brexit-like hysteria.

What was worse was when Danny Rose, scorer of England’s winning goal, was asked what his team-mates were thinking. He got hung up on a question that wasn’t his forte, and didn’t know what to say. Danny Rose: “They’re all fantastic players, they are making the right decisions, and believe it or not, the move was a reaction from the manager to fire the boys up. It was designed to be a positive. They’re going to face pressure. We’re going to face pressure for years to come.”

Well, yes. England will face a lot of pressure. We’re playing for our own country and not other countries’, as Thomas Cook will be promoting by promising to take thousands of people to every England match, so that for just a night away you will be “part of the England Football Team”. And after round one in Russia we’ve lost all but one of our group games. To do anything like what we did in 1990, we will need significant improvements in key areas. But if we can avoid travelling to France in four years’ time with that extra burden, then the boys will be in with a chance.

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