Apathy is worst thing about England’s exit

Roy Hodgson
Roy Hodgson
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The lowest point in English football history arrived in Belo Horizonte in 1950.

An England side containing Jimmy Dickinson fell to a 1-0 reverse to USA’s team of amateurs in a defeat which shook football.

The World Cup loss in Brazil was such a shock those back home were convinced the result was a newspaper misprint when they read it – and Walter Winterbottom’s men had in fact scored 10.

But fast forward to the same city 64 years on and something much worse was happening to the Three Lions: Apathy.

The national indifference witnessed on Tuesday to England playing a fixture at the World Cup was surely unprecedented.

My esteemed former News colleague, Steve Bone, tweeted he was missing his first England World Cup game since 1970 – when he was seven months old.

I took the opportunity to go for a run as the game was building up and missed the first 10 minutes.

Then came the second half Luis Suarez bite on Giorgio Chiellini in the Uruguay versus Italy game being played simultaneously, an incident ITV pundit Andy Townsend noted would have the nation reaching for their remotes.

The national back pages yesterday were full of that story and, quite rightly, England’s Test meeting with Sri Lanka at Headingley.

That’s because the game had all the intensity of a Sunday afternoon kickaround down the common, after a few tins and a picnic. No-one was interested.

Costa Rica were looking to emerge unscathed ahead of their second round obligations.

It was liking watching Roger Federer in his opening Wimbledon match, ticking over without exerting himself.

England’s opposition got the job done without them nicking so much as a set in a dead rubber.

To hear Roy Hodgson speak of his satisfaction at a performance which delivered a 0-0 draw in those circumstances grated.

Yes there have been a few crumbs of comfort and, yes, there is young talent in the ranks.

But England have just failed to qualify from their group at World Cup for the first time since 1958.

For Roy Hodgson or anyone else to talk about positivity in those circumstances irks, even if pre-tournament expectations were at an all-time low.

Those conservative ambitions have seen Hodgson avoid the inquest his predecessors would have been intensely subjected to.

The question mark remains over his ability to cajole the best out of his team.

Players need a manager they believe in, they need to believe they can win.

Is the camp energised? Is it enjoyable? Is there direction, the training intense and tactics sharp?

It’s hard to reconcile the man I saw derided as a relic by national journalists in a press conference five years ago, with the person who can do that.

If it was simply about showing pride, how come Spain did so well with a national anthem with no words?

Too many of England’s players still look crippled by the pressure of wearing the national shirt.

Wayne Rooney looks no closer to ever being the player he is at Manchester United and England’s defence is now so shaky they are undone by balls you’d hammer a parks central defender for missing.

Meanwhile, 200m Brazilians demand a World Cup they see as a birthright on home soil, and Neymar quite literally asks: What pressure?

Watching him take on that quest will now be something to focus on.

We can enjoy the emerging talents of Mexico, Belgium, Colombia and those Chilean grafters who have excited us so much in a World Cup which has been right up with the best.

We can return to the wall charts and sticker albums which remind us of tournaments of our youth.

And we can do all of that without the hopeless hope which comes with England at a major competition.

I’m quite looking forward to that. Whether that’s apathy or not, I’m not quite sure.