There’s a sense of euphoria about the England team following the result against Croatia in Zagreb, a much-needed and timely boost to our game. However, for me it’s somewhat tarnished. Fabio Capello’s admission that the England players play better away from Wembley, away from their own fans, is a sad indictment of the national game. And boy, was he right!
“They play with more confidence away,” he said ahead of the Croatia game. “When we play at Wembley, sometimes the crowd whistle at the first mistake. Here it will be different. I hope that we will play with courage, not fear, and we play like a team. I’m sure, really, that England’s players will play better than they do at home.”
If we can, let’s take a pause and really think about what the England manager has said. What happened to the crowd being the 12th man, roaring their team on and putting the fear of God into the opposition? What happened to Wembley becoming a fortress for the England team? No need for the opposition to worry, it’s our own players who feel the fear. Some waste of £800 million.
It’s a phenomenon that isn’t limited to the England fans at Wembley, as demonstrated in Barcelona against Andorra. What other country’s fans would abuse their own players during a vital World Cup or European Championship qualifier? Do the Croatian, Turkish or Greek fans turn on their own players during a game? After the game, make your feelings known, but during the match, what good can it do to jeer your team’s every touch? If Croatia fall behind to an early goal against England at Wembley, will their fans’ boos ring out in the away section? I don’t think so. Just look at how they were still bouncing in the stands with their team well beaten at home, for the first time in 14 years.
Playing in the England team shouldn’t mean an automatic elevation to becoming a national hero but equally it shouldn’t mean becoming a pantomime villain. The abuse leveled at England players by opposition fans while playing for their clubs is something of a growing trend. Where have the heroes gone? It’s generally acknowledged we have world class players in the Premiership who are worshiped by their club’s faithful — John Terry and Steven Gerrard being just two — but often vilified by the England supporters.
Maybe the Croatia result is just the shot in the arm the public needed after too many mediocre performances and the abuse will end. On the other hand, as is typical of England’s expectations, we’re now probably odds-on to win the World Cup and a lukewarm first-half performance against Kazakhstan on 11th October will see the boo-boys rise again.