I have never felt about international football the way I feel about club football. I have never been an England “fan”, or worn an England shirt, or been devastated when they lost a game (all right, maybe for five minutes after the Germany game in 1996, but I was young and impressionable and quite probably drunk).
It’s partly to do with the disagreeable connotations of the English flag, and partly about the wearying media hysteria which surrounds England’s presence at any international tournament. But mostly, it’s just that I’m not all that interested. It’s not them, it’s me: Crystal Palace have a prior claim to my heart and I can’t love two teams the way I love one.
(There’s also something in there about feeling part of my local community, which is an inclusive group, in a way that I don’t feel “English”, which is an exclusive group, and something else about Crystal Palace footballers not being the kind who get paid hundreds of thousands of pounds a week, and an unrelated distaste for drunken topless men shouting in the street when England win.)
But I’m not anti the England team. I like to watch them play, and I am happy to see them win. Or I used to be. But this time around (there is, in case you hadn’t noticed, currently a football tournament taking place), I am disconcerted to discover that I actively want England to lose. Watching them play France last night I found myself silently egging France on, and occasionally shouting inadvertently (and, once, clapping like a hyperactive child) when they came close to scoring. I wasn’t supporting France the way I support Palace, but I was certainly supporting them the way I support, I don’t know, West Brom against Chelsea.
And there’s the reason: the Chelsea connection. Or more specifically, the John Terry connection. Here’s the thing: England won’t win this competition. They’re not good enough. They will probably go out in the quarter finals, to the usual lamentations from the press and vaguely exasperated eye-rolling from everyone else. And after a bit, we’ll all forget about who played well or badly in which game, or whether the right substitutions were made. But we will all remember that Roy Hodgson chose to take John Terry and not Rio Ferdinand to Ukraine, a month before Terry is due to stand trial for the racist abuse of Ferdinand’s younger brother Anton.
I don’t know how the trial will go. But I do know that John Terry is an awful man (Rio isn’t a saint, but compared to John Terry he is a shining beacon of humanity and intellect), and that stacked against all the excellent reasons not to take Terry to the competition is the single argument in his favour: that he is a good footballer. But we already know that England won’t win, so what have they gained by taking him and leaving Rio, who is also a good footballer, at home? Approximately nothing. When by doing the opposite – by using John Terry as a scapegoat and a symbol for all the loutish, entitled, ugly behaviour that footballers can exhibit – they could have sent out a message that says: we will punish footballers when they behave badly, and we don’t need to stick our thumbs up our bottoms and wait for bad behaviour to be legally determined in a court before we see it happening and call it out.
Football isn’t a matter of life and death, but its morals and values seep through into society. The England management had the chance to do a good thing, the repercussions of which would have played out in small but important ways across the country, and they didn’t take it, and that’s why I hope they lose.
(I am still waiting to pick my team for the office sweepstake, because the person inside whose desk drawer the all-important envelope is locked ran over his foot with a lawnmower at the weekend (I’ll get England now, I expect). I am of course supporting Ireland, but they didn’t have the best of starts, so I am going to be boring and tip Germany for the win.)