Football in England is a source of national identity, a reflection of our country and its position in the world, and a constant point of discussion, disappointment, and general hysteria for me and my countrymen.
As your English insider, your ‘soccer’ confidant if you will, I think it’s about time to reveal the truth behind our national sport.
The history lesson
The beautiful game goes way back in England. There’s evidence of the first carved image of a match near medieval Bristol, and the first documented pair of football boots were worn by Henry VIII (remember the fat king with 6 wives?), who ordered a pair for his wardrobe in 1526.
In the beginning, the sport was slightly more violent than it is today (there’s a worrying amount of medieval references to broken arms and legs), but, in the last few decades, football has grown dramatically from its crude and violent roots into a fast and technical game, attracting a new breed of quick and skillful players.
This evolution on the pitch mirrors the changes that have taken place in English society. In the 1970s and ’80s, British football fans and police alike showed a preference for violence, which was a reflection of the country’s deindustrialization and rising unemployment. Today though, it’s all sunshine and roses, with cozy, welcoming football stadiums from Cambridge to Bournemouth.
So why do the Brits keep losing?
Passionate debates are held in pubs up and down the country about why England always loses on penalties to Germany. The current argument goes thus: Since the Premier League was formed in 1992, television companies have made billions through the purchase of broadcasting rights. Instead of the profits being shared, private companies have taken over all the previously locally-owned clubs and brought in players from abroad to increase the international appeal of English football. So, no more grassroots funding and no more local talent. Does that explanation fully explain the missed penalties? Maybe not, but it will open up a lively conversation for you during your next visit to the UK.
English football “Rivalries”
Until quite recently, we English had a grand delusion that our national team had several great rivalries, for instance against Germany and Brazil. Of course, this is entirely comical, as both these teams (although I hate to say it) are in a different class and probably have absolutely no idea that we actually had a “rivalry.” Our only legitimate rivalry is against Scotland, the “Auld Enemy,” an international fixture that happens to be the oldest in the history of the game.
Football IS English culture
The so-called “Golden Generation,” consisting of the likes of Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, and our crowning savior Mr. Beckham, may have passed, but, on a muddy old field behind school, football will continue to be a weekly ritual for British youngsters and parents up and down the country. Domestic F.A. Cup nights, where poor, lower league teams strive for glory against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United, and unsung men – sometimes even part-timers – have the chance to score a goal that will etch their name in the annals of English footballing history, are what motivates us.
There’ll always be something magical about a cold autumn night, mid-October, standing with a steak & onion pie in hand, watching as Oxford or Cambridge United are thumped 3-0 by a brilliant Brighton under the glare of the spotlights.