Apathetic England fans know their team’s level

Three Lions fans are expecting much at the World Cup. Picture: PA Images
Three Lions fans are expecting much at the World Cup. Picture: PA Images
Pompey remain in the Checkatrade Trophy are beating Northampton. Picture: Joe Pepler

Pompey set to find out Checkatrade opponents

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The Welsh phone-in caller was ranting angrily over the arrogance of England fans.

‘You don’t have a right to reach the later stages of tournaments,’ he fumed as he accused Three Lions supporters of Anglocentric footballing arrogance.

‘Going out in the groups stages - that’s your level.’

Well, yes, it is. And where’s the Englishman arguing to the contrary?

From his statement, our Welsh-supporting friend has concluded the qualification of Gareth Southgate’s side for the World Cup finals next summer has prompted a wave of bullish predictions and patriotic fervour over what will unfold in Russia.

Where exactly?

Has anyone, anywhere at all encountered an Englishman anticipating glory?

It’s now 20 years since Glenn Hoddle’s coaching staff free-wheeled in celebration as qualification was secured to France ‘98 in Rome. Hopes were high back then.

That, of course, was off the back of Euro ‘96 - the last time we reached the last four of a major tournament.

My local boozer has not long got rid of the beer stains off the ceiling from those chaotic, halcyon days.

The difference could not have been more marked last week, as a few indifferent punters occasionally lifted their heads from their pints to take in the events of the past two qualifiers.

Thank heavens there were no on-pitch scenes of celebration as Southgate’s side bundled past Slovenia. The sight of an empty top tier at Wembley told its own tale, while the TV figures show even England’s loyal armchair fans are being left cold by their national side.

Despite Sunday’s game against Lithuania holding a prime 5pm spot, the viewing figures were an average 3.69m. That was down from a peak of 4.98m. In other words, over 1m viewers switched off.

Okay, that game was a dead rubber, but it was a similar story against Slovenia, too, with an average of 5.07m from a peak of 6.18m

Meanwhile, over at The News’ Pompey Facebook page, posters were making their expectations clear.

‘Out in the group stages again,’ predicted one. ‘Embarrassing to watch,’ cringed another. Then, perhaps most revealingly of all, came the two damning words: Who cares?

So, it’s pretty hard to see where the notion of an expectant nation arises from.

At least the caller got it right about where England’s level is in major competitions. The record at the last five tournaments tells the story of where expectations should lie.

Failed to qualify/round of 16/quarter-finals/group stage/round of 16 is the miserable-yet-revealing tale of woe. The quarter-final, for those who need reminding, was effectively a second-round game at the Euros in 2012 which saw England lose on penalties to Italy.

So, yes, on that evidence supporters can anticipate their national team bowing ingloriously out between the group stage and round of 16.

The reasons, of course, for the continuing sorry state of the national team are manifold, well documented and shown no sign of disappearing.

Players rewarded in hunger-blunting fashion beyond their wildest dreams for, at best, mediocrity.

The Premier League, with its £8bn TV rights, which certainly doesn’t have developing young talent on its agenda, as the number of Englishman on display continues to shrink.

And, of course, the national sport’s poverty at grass-roots level, which still lags behind the game’s best and increasingly appears to be in its death throes.

After disappointment at major tournaments, the adage usually rolled out is the surprise is anyone is surprised. Now no one is surprised.

The apathy remains, and when, in all probability England bow out by the second round in Russia, we will already know that’s our level.