Out at the Group Stages of the last World Cup and without a major tournament win in fifty years, failure upon failure has led to a cynicism surrounding the England team. But it wasn’t always like this. I remember a nationwide optimism, with all of us dreaming like fools of victory. Is it better to be pessimistic as we are now, rather than optimistic and getting shot down as we have done before?

The first major tournament I properly watched as a kid was France 1998. I remember the brilliant ‘Three Lions’ song and the excitement of England at a World Cup. Paul Scholes scoring in the opening game, through to the heartbreak of penalties, I remember it all. I remember England beating Germany 5-1 in qualifying a few years later, and the David Beckham free kick against Greece. In 2002, I remember being on a family trip to Brighton, hearing a roar from a nearby pub and an old lady running up to us and screaming, “he’s done it, he scored, the wonderful man!” when Beckham scored the penalty against Argentina. In 2002 we even got to stay at home in the mornings to watch the game before coming in to school. As if they needed us to love this team even more, they were even getting us out of maths! They made us cheer, they made us cry, but for years we were so invested in this team that it seemed only a matter of time before we’d be partying on the streets in celebrating a major tournament win.

As you can tell, I grew up with this Golden Generation of Gerrard, Owen, Rooney, Beckham, Lampard, Ferdinand, Terry, Cole, Crouch… okay, not Crouch, but you get the point – world-class players all wearing the same badge. They were a force to be reckoned with. And to be fair it wasn’t always household names in these teams. When injuries wreaked havoc on our starting line-up, I recall the likes of Trevor Sinclair, Danny Mills, Darius Vassell, Aaron Lennon, even Owen ‘ambiguous-accent’ Hargreaves, who went from, “why the hell is he there?”, in 2002 to, “oh, he’s the only one who can score a penalty”, in 2006.


Either way this was a team that brought us many brilliant and horrible memories, but it was rarely dull, and we were always invested in them. In the end they didn’t deliver, and by Euro 2008 some actually enjoyed the tournament more because the stress of watching England wasn’t a factor for once (cheers McClaren). 2010 was seen as the last chance for this talented group to prove themselves… but it wasn’t to be. The manner of defeat was even harder to watch, with the 4-1 defeat to Germany the horrible conclusion to an awful tournament. And thus the new feeling of pessimism began to accompany England at a major tournament.

Now we come full circle to France again for a major tournament in 2016. Where’s a song? Forget ‘Three Lions’ and the classic ‘World In Motion’ by New Order (who doesn’t enjoy John Barnes rapping?), at this point I’d even take Ant and Dec’s ‘We’re On The Ball’ as a catchy song for the summer… and I suppose ‘Goldenballs (Mr Beckham To You)’ at least made me laugh.

I can’t quite see the mood of the country being dictated by the results of the team like in the past. Despite some promising players, we haven’t really had a next-big-thing since Wayne Rooney, who himself hasn’t delivered at a major tournament for a while and his best days are arguably behind him. Lately the England team has often been a bit flat, and hard to get behind. I don’t care how many goals we score against Moldova, it’s about how we do in the major tournaments and it’s still hard to know what to make of this England team, especially if Roy Hodgson is still picking players like Jack Wilshere who have been injured all season.

Are we being pessimistic to say they won’t do well, or just realistic? A lot of draws, a lack of passion, lack of big names. It’s gotten difficult to really care, and worst of all nowadays you find yourself dreading an international weekend, because at least in the Premier League it all seems to matter a bit.

That Frank Skinner song talks about that tackle by Moore and when Lineker scored… Well I remember that Beckham free kick, and when Owen ran around Argentina, and Heskey… HESKEY! I remember it all, but I can’t say I remember anything that we did at Brazil 2014. I guess there was that time when Raheem Sterling shot against Italy and it looked a lot like it had gone in but it hadn’t…. wow, is that the best we got? It’s all just been so forgettable.

The biggest worry of all has been watching Wales qualify for Euro 2016. Their players and fans all seem to have that passion that we are lacking; they seem genuinely delighted to be there. Add a genuine world class player into the mix in Gareth Bale, and if we’re not careful they could beat us in the Group Stages at a canter.

But there is hope. Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford. These are all players of great promise, and if we build a team around players like them who seem to be showing genuine passion then this could kick-start a little more passion from the fans. You see empty seats at Wembley nowadays, what better way to fix that than to play for the fans and make them want to watch you? We can go from Rooney in 2010 grumpily saying, “Nice to see your home fans booing you”, to screaming, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” to a jubilant crowd of supporters.

jamie-vardy-england-netherlands_3439260Regardless of the opposition, we qualified for Euro 2016 with aplomb, and our  3-2 away victory against Germany recently is not to be sniffed at. The biggest story this year has been Leicester City’s shock Premier League win, led by Jamie Vardy who rose from the lower divisions to become an England international. Don’t put him on the wing, get him up front, who better to make sure we’re all having a party? Because even if we have become pessimistic, none of this is to say that we don’t want to believe in them.

I recommend checking out the Vauxhall TV advert before Euro 2012 with that Noel Gallagher song, where everyone’s lining up across the country next to the England team to face the opposition. It’s a great idea, and once again got me excited for a major tournament – and that was in 2012 when we were still booing Jordan Henderson coming on as a sub… We do have some potential genuine talent to showcase this summer. If they perform well, without fear and showing a little passion, our perception of the England team could change completely.

It is of course about winning, but it’s also about the manner in which they play. We want them to do well, and we want to believe that they care as much as we do. All it needs is a little push, and we will all be back on the wonderful, unpredictable, torrid bandwagon that is England maybe, possibly, nearly, not quite doing well at a major tournament. It could be frustrating, it could be brilliant, but either way it would be nice to at least feel something.

Dare I say it, while this new England team is far from a finished article, we are at least seeing some youthful talents who could well be big for us in future. I’d say that we have been made pessimistic by failure when we should have been succeeding in the past, so what better way to address this than to succeed when we expect them to fail? In fact, why wait for the future, why not seize Euro 2016 as the opportunity to get a nation behind you again, singing about Three Lions on the shirt again and sending the Twitter trolls back into their caves.

All it would need is a little passion and heart, an unlikely run to the knock-out stages of the tournament and we’d all be behind them again. And could we win a penalty shoot-out, just once? Optimism may be misguided, but I will always take that over boring pessimism, and I really hope that this young England team can surprise us, and in doing so make us foolishly dream again.