Three Lions don't deserve lynch mob

By Martin Samuel, July 1, 2010
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So what were they meant to do, then?

I know there are a lot of angry people out there. I know there are people who spent a lot of money, who saved and sacrificed to get to South Africa and follow England through this World Cup. But, for most, watching England involved no greater commitment than a walk down the pub, or two steps across the front room to turn the television on.

And what they saw was a crashing disappointment. Even so, it hardly justifies the lynch mob mentality that envelops the country whenever England's footballers go out of a major tournament. The headlines are preposterously familiar. Players drank beer! Players joked! Players laughed! One player smoked a cigar! Where did they do this? Back at the team headquarters after the game with Germany, in private. We only know it happened at all because one, Ledley King, was daft enough to take photographs on his Blackberry in a format they could be seen by 'friends'; one of whom is clearly not the mate Ledley thinks he is.

Yet what did we expect? It's a game, it's a sport. These players have been winning and losing big matches all their lives. Title deciders, cup finals, major internationals; they are used to it. John Terry missed a penalty that would have won the Champions League for Chelsea. Others have failed for England in penalty shoot-outs. You know what they do in those situations? They do what any of us would do, faced with extremes of success and failure, sometimes in the same week. They drown their sorrows, go back to the hotel, open a beer, pick over the pieces, and think about going on holiday.

They do not lock themselves in the room, crying and rocking in the foetal position. They don't have to be talked down from a ledge. It is part of their professional existence. They accept it and move on because they know that in three weeks time they will be back in training for their clubs and preparing for a new season, expected to be positive, optimistic and refreshed. What we demand of them, penance until the public are out of rotten tomatoes and the newspapers are bored with the story, says as much about us as it does them; and as much about some of the attitudes that may be part of the problem.

There are many issues with English football, but never be fooled into thinking players do not care. Do you think they do not mind being considered inferior? Do you think they want to return home to disdain? Everybody likes to be popular. Remember how sensitive Wayne Rooney was to the negative reaction of England's fans. They hear the jeers. They know what the next two years will be like for them.

Until the next tournament comes around, of course. At which point, if England have qualified, a nation will invest impossibly high hopes in a group of players who, history suggests, do not have the wit for tournament football that exists beyond these shores.

And when it ends as it always does they will be castigated once more for opening a beer. As if we are surprised; as if this is anything to do with what went wrong for England in South Africa, Germany, Portugal, Japan, Belgium, Holland, Franceā€¦

    Last updated: 4:08pm, July 1 2010