England need a bit of fire in them rather than more apologies after another failed World Cup campaign, writes Neil Humphreys. Why not take a leaf out of Uruguay's book?
Luis Suarez was banned for biting an opponent and the nation’s president, Jose Mujica, called FIFA “a bunch of old sons of b*****s”. Now that takes cartoon villainy to new heights. That’s Tom trying to stab little Jerry with something really sharp and nasty from the kitchen.
Such blinkered, jaundiced opinions are equal parts insane and inspired. In recent days, the Uruguayans have expressed a level of jaw-dropping defiance that moves past the grotesque and into comedy. In the initial aftermath, their rage against the FIFA machine felt like an audition for Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. In recent days, they’ve been out-camping the rogues from the caped crusaders’ original TV series.
And if they’re playing The Joker, then Roy Hodgson is Alfred; a loyal, softly spoken, slightly drippy, servant to the superstars around him.
Watching England’s manager trot gleefully towards the England fans after a paint-strippingly dull 0-0 draw against Costa Rica was the blackest of comedies. Like a puppy dog realizing he might be thrown a bone after all, he scampered across the turf with his shirt-tail wagging and his tongue flapping. And the England supporters reciprocated, giving Hodgson and his morose band of multi-millionaires a standing ovation.
After a week enduring the football equivalent of a Joy Division album, Three Lions fans danced like Jive Bunny on a loop. The atmosphere couldn’t have been any more twee and quintessentially English if Hodgson had donned his white Alfred gloves, poured the tea and sliced the cucumber for the sandwiches. All that was missing were Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench in flowery, wide-brimmed hats lamenting the stifling Brazilian weather.
Relations were cordial, respectful, polite, unfailing English and just a trifle crap.
England’s civilized order had to be respected initially. It was very much representative of the mostly Four Weddings and a Funeral crowd wearing the Three Lions jerseys (Brazil was a trip too far for many working class wallets, judging by the average supporter on the flights between fixtures.) There were to be no burning effigies of Hodgson in Brazil. England did get a plucky point against Costa Rica after all.
But as the nation’s apologists waffled on about “positives”, taking steps towards Euro 2016 and building for the future, nausea started to take hold (for a start, what do the people making this annoyingly asinine comments think the other nations are building? A DeLorean to take them back to Euro 2012?)
The turning point came with José Mujica’s ludicrously demented “sons of b*****s” comments. Like a double helix, my opinions on two countries’ very different reactions to their failure crossed over.
Two ways to go about it
English to their malleable core, the Three Lions couldn’t stop apologizing. With darting eyes and stuttering speech, they took turns to come forward and do their best, bumbling best man from any Richard Curtis romantic comedy. We’re awfully sorry for not beating anyone. We’re dreadfully embarrassed by each of our rather rubbish performances, we’ll try and do better next time, really sorry again about all that.
But the Uruguayans apologise for nothing. They’re not just deluded, they are despotic dictator deluded. They are Bond villain insane; utterly devoid of compassion for others and entirely lacking in self-awareness. Whilst ripping the heads off newborn kittens, they spat out one venomous, comically defiant conspiracy theory after another. We’ve done nothing wrong. It’s a set-up. Suarez is God. Sepp Blatter is the devil. We will not stand down. We will show you what will really is. We will kill Keyser Soze’s family, his friends and neighbours, his casual acquaintances and a guy he has a sneaky pint with on a Friday after work before we admit to any wrongdoing.
On a certain, admittedly warped, level, such national defiance in the face of global condemnation earns grudging admiration after a fortnight of suffering mealy-mouthed platitudes to England’s worst showing in World Cup history.
If an England player embarrassed himself and his country, Hodgson would be clamouring across the seats to be the first to a press conference microphone to offer a contrite, mournful apology on behalf of the offending player, the squad, the country and any remaining British territories, including the Falkland Islands. But Uruguay manager Oscar Tabarez would hail his guilty culprit a national hero, condemn the shadowy forces conspiring to bring his proud people down and then eat the microphone.
The Three Lions could use a little of that South American spite. Uruguay have pinched the best of Churchill, mixed it with their siege mentality, added a soupcon of working class insecurity and created a heady brew that is unapologetic and yet slightly enviable.
In Suarez, they have a local hero who has distilled the very essence of Churchill’s finest war rhetoric. He would bite you on the beaches.
His poor, humble background is a clear point of connection with most Uruguayans. They are bonded by a shared poverty. Suarez not only learned his trade on the back streets of Montevideo, he swept them. His childhood was one of permanent struggle and menial part-time jobs. In the eyes of his devoted countrymen, he’s been railing against authority figures ever since. Even his eventual apology is somehow construed as a cunning ploy on Suarez’s part to engineer a move to Barcelona. Everyone in Uruguay knows his sorry is insincere, but they admire him all the more. He’s one of them.
Wayne Rooney says sorry and English folks from a similar background just make fun of his dodgy hair weave. Life can be so unfair for the Three Lions.
So they might as well stop apologizing then. The mumbling, stumbling Hugh Grant routines work with young couples trying to make a good impression on date night, but are less effective at seeing off the likes of Costa Rica in the World Cup group stages. Apologies are out of fashion. Anger is the new black.
Now I’m not suggesting Queen Elizabeth II should start calling anyone within FIFA, or the football community generally, “a bunch of old sons of b*****s”. That would be uncouth. But if she’s ever asked for an opinion on Qatar hosting the World Cup, she should swear like a drunken sailor.
Neil Humphreys is the best-selling author of football novels Match Fixer and Premier Leech, which was the FourFourTwo Football Novel of the Year. You can find his website right here.