England's reluctant spectators

For the past 20 years, the European Championships have provided England with some contrasting footballing emotions. After reaching the quarter-finals of the 1986 FIFA World Cup™ in Mexico, Bobby Robson's side arrived in Germany two years later as one of the pre-tournament favourites. Yet, England failed to secure a single point at those finals.

Four years later, this time after a fourth-placed finish at Italy 1990, England travelled to Sweden in 1992 in a tournament famed by English fans for Graham Taylor's decision to substitute legendary striker Gary Lineker for Alan Smith in a match with the hosts at the Rasunda stadium. England lost 2-1, exited the tournament, while Taylor remained at the helm as Lineker retired from the international scene.

By the time UEFA EURO 1996 came round, the English public were hungry for football. A failure to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA cost Taylor his job, while Terry Venables took the reins. Europe bounced to the beat of 'Three Lions', a song popularised by its refrain: 'It's coming home, it's coming home... football's coming home,' while fans of the hosts found pride in their national team again, despite their exit on penalties to the clinical Germans at the semi-final stage.

The year 2000 saw England reap their revenge. Once again, they failed to qualify past the group stages, but Alan Shearer's goal did see them earn a 1-0 victory over their old enemy. Four years later, it was another striker who entertained the English: namely 18-year-old Wayne Rooney, whose exciting displays enlivened the tournament, but following his early withdrawal through injury in the quarter-final against Portugal, the Three Lions lost out on penalties once again.

England's staying home
There is no such history about England's displays at UEFA EURO 2008. "The Wally with the Brolly (Steve McClaren) and his so-called tactics put paid to that," explains Paul, a taxi driver from London. "He'd have been better driving my cab while I could have managed England. With the players he had, we should have been there. A tournament without England just doesn't hold the same interest for me."

Paul's comments serve to reflect the hurt felt by England fans about the team's failure to qualify for the continental showpiece in Austria and Switzerland - and while the more passionate football fans have been adopting countries which their favourite footballer represents, Dave, a barman in Lancashire admits that things are not quite right.

For the Poland-Austria game last week, there were ten in the bar. Seven weren't watching the game, two were - and the other was a Labrador called Bobby.
Dave, a barman, bemoans the effect that England's failure to qualify has had on his trade.

"During EURO 2004, this place was packed for most of the games," he reminisced. "You couldn't get in if England was playing and we had to have ticketed entry for the quarter-finals. England's failure to qualify has had on his trade."> For the Poland-Austria game last week, there were ten in the bar. Seven weren't watching the game, two were - and the other was a Labrador called Bobby.

"The thing is that England would have been in that group if they'd have qualified. The place would have been a lot fuller if that had been the case - as people would have been interested in our opponents. Things have been a lot better now, because some of the football has been great - a lot of the punters are behind Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, because they've been playing some wonderful football."

Geoff Herr-st
Yet not all the English are backing the Iberian nations or the Dutch. The nation's hat-trick hero of the 1966 FIFA World Cup final, Sir Geoff Hurst has made a somewhat surprising choice.

"I'm backing Germany," he declared. "A few people may raise their eyebrows, but you've got to fancy them, haven't you? Their record in World Cups and European Championships is fantastic. OK, Brazil might have the best overall record, but this is Europe - and Germany are the European superheavyweights.

Whether some people care to admit it, they are very much like us - determined, strong and proud. They've even got a sense of humour, I've found.
Sir Geoff Hurst believes that there are plenty of parallels between England and Germany.

"They never give up, which is why they have been so successful in football. Actually, they remind me a lot of England. Geoff Hurst believes that there are plenty of parallels between England and Germany."> Whether some people care to admit it, they are very much like us - determined, strong and proud. They've even got a sense of humour, I've found. In footballing terms they're like us too. Except they can take penalty kicks.

"I don't mind admitting it, they are a great footballing nation - and Germany's a great country as well. Until we can renew our healthy rivalry with them on the pitch, which I look forward to, I for one will be saying, "Come on you Germans!"

Beckham hurting
However, that phrase might actually stick in a current England legend's throat. In a recent interview, David Beckham admitted that he's struggled to stomach watching the matches - given his feelings of disappointment and envy.

"It has been tough actually bringing myself to watch a game," he said. "I actually feel physically sick watching them. We should be there, but it is just one of those things. We move on, it is in the past. We move onto World Cup qualifiers now.

"We always sit in front of the press guys and say 'this could be it, we have a great team and great individuals and we have the belief'. But we always come up with excuses and that has got to stop. We need to go into a competition with the belief, and we need to win something."

The next target is South Africa 2010.