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Think winning thoughts for Euro 2012
IF you know the first thing about football, you’ll know that the European Championship starts tonight.
It’s already been hyped and written about, discussed and analysed, but only now does a ball actually get kicked in anger.
This is a great event, albeit one that inevitably suffers an element of inferiority.
Everybody knows the World Cup is more important, but it won’t come around for another couple of years so we’ll spend this summer touting the Euros as the biggest thing there’s ever been.
This may sound like outrageous hyperbole, and indeed it is, but remember we’re in the realm of football here.
Standards are different, language is calibrated to the extreme.
‘I’ll be cheering England, hoping for the best, expecting another disappointment and enjoying the feeling of national unity’
It’s a little like buying Lemsip – nobody wants the normal strength one anyway because we all want to buy the Max-Super-Ultimate-Mega Strength pack.
That’s now normal.
That’s the minimum I’d buy if I had a cold.
And so it is with football. Unless this tournament is heralded as the most anticipated piece of sporting theatre since Jesse Owens arrived in Berlin, there’s a fear that we'll all think it’s a bit Mickey Mouse.
So the hype is with us to stay. From an English perspective, there’s a familiar narrative to bigtournaments.
It runs like this – huge anticipation, overheated hopes, injury to star player just before the whole thing starts, ever-heightened hopes, and then gentle failure.
This time, the expectation has been more muted, not least because our manager went a few months back and was only replaced a few weeks ago.
Roy Hodgson’s appointment was a surprise, not least because I had assumed there was a shortlist of one Harry Redknapp.
Hodgson is clearly a decent man, and I wish him very well, but I wonder if he has that big personality that an international team needs.
We’ve had a variety of injuries, an absurd and painful stand-off between selecting John Terry or Rio Ferdinand, but not both, and now we’re in that rare situation of arriving at a championship with little expectation of doing all that well.
The natural response to that is to say: “Well, with nothing to lose – perhaps we’ll win.”
Wouldn’t that be lovely, but I really doubt it.
There’s a very good reason for that lack of expectation, and it doesn’t stop with the concept that Joleon Lescott stands between our goal and France’s strikers.
It’s a shortage of great quality, a culture of underachievement, a lack of continuity and the simple fact that teams such as Spain, Germany and Holland are better.
I’ve been to a few tournaments with England over the years.
A couple of World Cups, couple of European Championships, and I’ve always harboured a secret hope of victory.
Back in 2002, when we took the lead against Brazil in the quarter-final, I looked at a reporter sitting next to me and we both said: “We’re going to win the World Cup”, with that faux-ironic air that meant we really hoped we would, but secretly expected it all to go wrong.
Which it did.
This time, I’ll be watching from home.
It’s great to be there, of course, to be at the stadium and soaking up the atmosphere and getting swept away by the occasion.
Once, when England were losing a pivotal match against Portugal a few years ago, I was nearly involved in a fracas in the press box as emotions ran high, and I’ve certainly been guilt of a few unprofessional whoops and groans over the years.
But when you’re a journalist following a team, what you miss is the sense of national excitement.
I well remember being with the England team in Germany in 2006, when they were based in the staid surroundings of Baden-Baden.
I phoned home and my wife told me that the streets were full of flags and anticipation, that kids were painting their faces and that every van had an England banner streaming from the roof.
We, who were so near to the players, had none of that.
It was like being in a sterile, excitement-free environment until you actually got to the match.
So this time around, I’m going to embrace the anticipation.
A beer in front of the telly, kids getting excited, and perhaps one of those little England flags that clasp on to your car for a while.
I’ll be cheering England, hoping for the best, expecting another disappointment and enjoying the feeling of national unity that seems to come from football tournaments and Royal jamborees.
After all, we’ll all have a representative in Poland and Ukraine.
Graham Taylor will be there with Radio Five Live, a little bit of Watford taken to the European Championship.
He’s stood down from the football club, and heard endless plaudits come his way as to his inspiration and dedication.
Graham deserves them all – he’s been criticised by plenty of people over the years, but never in this corner of the country and never by me.
If it weren’t for he and Elton John, I suspect Watford’s footballing history might just have been rather nondescript.
Instead, it’s pockmarked with a few truly remarkable triumphs and some memories that the whole town cherishes.
Cheerio GT – but I reckon you’ll be back at the Vic before very long.
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