England, England… zzzzz

Brian McLoughlin

What does it mean to be Irish?

Means we’re not English.

Every two years we get the same psychodrama: the England football team at an international tournament. This time, the psychodrama goes as follows: England invented football. England is the home of football. England is the best football team in the world. It would be an act of high treason if England fail to win Euro 2024. It would be because they’re woke. It would be because their players once took the knee. It would be because of Harry…

Harry? Never trust a Harry. Just ask King Charles. Harry Kane’s penalty from the last world cup still hasn’t landed. Harry, this time is missing, presumed injured; Harry Maguire: fulcrum of England’s defence, cornerstone of cornerstone, articulated trunk.

Loads of psychobabble is spoken and written about England’s prospects in Euro 2024 but the fact is England have never won Euro. Denmark, Czechoslovakia. Portugal, Holland and Greece have all won Euro, but not England, Yes, lesser countries; smaller in population and football resource have won Euro but not England.

The reason essentially breaks down to two: first, they’re useless at penalties. Four of the last seven Euros, English have gone out on penalties, or rather on penalty misses. The last Euro, it wasn’t Harry Kane, but three others. The last Euros took place primarily in England; England had home advantage for the final; they scored the first goal in the final against Italy, but Italy took charge of midfield, equalised and won the penalty shootout – agony for England. Football’s not coming home; football’s coming Rome.

The second reason is England have never discovered an elite level midfield, capable of sustaining coherent, cohesive, compelling football in the crux. That means ball retention and retrieval against the best opposition, which means the opposition have more of the ball, more of the attack, more of the chances…

Thus year optimism was particularly high. England were ready; they’d learned their lesson from past near misses, their players were thriving in pastures home and abroad: the Kane scored hundreds of goals in Germany, the Foden was brilliant at home, as was the Saka, and above all else, Jude had arrived, Jude, the best player in the world and Spain, the man who never makes it bad.

And they have Gareth as commander.


England qualified in first place in their group and have the easiest route in history to a final and they did it without Taylor Swift. In other words they drove their fans to sleep, they were pedestrian, disjointed, boring, in a word: chit – declared Gary Lineker, BBC pundit and all round nice guy. To that Harry the Kane replied in effect that it takes one to know one. I call this chit-chat. At the end of the third game, a 0-0 draw with Slovenia, Gareth Southgate nice guy and statistically English’s greatest manager was booed by the fans, a few of whom threw toilet tissue at him, which is a not too subtle message to inform Gareth his team were chit, his selections were chit, and yes, his midfield were chit. ‘And while it’s my job to take the tissue, it’s not very nice for the players,’ declared the heroic Gareth.

Napoleon Bonaparte said better a lucky general than a good one. Maybe this time England will somehow go all the way and win the thing and Irish women and men in bars and in sitting rooms will exclaim: Chit.

Brian McLoughlin is a member of Inklings Writing Group, who meet on Tuesdays at 11am in the Annebrook House Hotel.