Not once has a group of fans spent hour after hour in a stadium or a city center beating incessantly on drums and playing trumpets to “The Great Escape.” There haven’t been any rousing choruses of the English standards.
Admit it. Something is lacking without the presence of poor old England, whose national soccer team resembles Charlie Brown’s baseballers. It never wins – at least not since the 1966 World Cup – but it always makes a spectacle of itself in falling short.
Without Posh and Becks, Euro 2008 is lacking … well, spice.
Don’t you miss breathtaking daily coverage from the British media on the travails of David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and the rest of the lads?
And without the WAGS – that’s wives and girlfriends, for those unfamiliar with the London tabloids – coverage of players’ significant others seems to have ceased. How are we supposed to find out what Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Tweedy, Alex Curran and Melanie Slade are up to? They could have Botox injections or chemical peels, and we might miss it.
The only bit of WAGS news was the marriage of Coleen McLoughlin and Rooney on the Italian Riviera last week, and the post-wedding fireworks in Portofino that rivaled a Fourth of July party. Oh, and that bit in The Daily Telegraph that bookmaker William Hill set 5-1 odds of a divorce within five years.
Think back to two years ago, when paparazzi descended on the spa town of Baden-Baden, Germany, camped outside Brenner’s Park Hotel and Spa, and followed the WAGS like scent hounds at a fox hunt – from boutiques to restaurants to Max’s night club. Nancy Dell’Olio, then girlfriend of then manager Sven-Goran Eriksson, hung out at Garibaldi’s in what appeared to be an attempt to make sure the photographers knew where she’d be.
Eriksson left England to manage Manchester City and now Mexico’s national team, his legacy defined before the last World Cup when he told indiscreet tales about his players to an undercover reporter from News of the World who was posing as an Arab sheik. His successor, Steve McClaren, was given a swift boot last November, a few days after England lost at home to Croatia and didn’t qualify for the Euros, the first major tournament it failed to reach since the 1994 World Cup in the United States.
Michel Platini, elected last year as president of the Union of European Football Associations, is presiding over his first tournament. When asked about England’s absence, the former French national team star looked up, and sounded exasperated, as if he had expected the question.
“They had only to qualify on the pitch,” he said through a translator. “I do not wish to say that we miss England. The 16 teams that have qualified are the 16 who were the best.”
He didn’t appear pleased with the increased influence of American owners who have bought English clubs. Manchester United (Malcolm Glazer), Liverpool (Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr.), Aston Villa (Randy Lerner) and Derby (Andy Appleby) all are controlled by Yanks, some purchased in heavily leveraged deals. Platini thinks teams that borrow to spend have an unfair advantage.
“I don’t see why Americans come and invest in these clubs unless they thought they could make something,” he said.
Borrowing and spending is the American way, and the way to success in the Premier League.
Despite the absence of its national team, there have been a few small signs of England at the tournament.
At the Italy-Netherlands match in Bern, there was a white-and-red Cross of St. George banner put up by a fan. There was another banner along the train tracks in a town between Basel and Geneva.
“Three Lions,” the anthem of England when it hosted the 1996 European Championship, was played on the stadium public-address system about an hour before the Switzerland-Portugal game in Basel.
Without England, organizers have had fewer security worries. There aren’t thousands of drunken, sweaty fans congregating in train stations after matches, some of them urinating against walls, many chanting: “It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home.” (Or, alternatively: “We’re going home, we’re going home …” after England’s eventual elimination.) And fewer scalpers have been evident.
No, it’s not the same.
For some, England will always be the focus.
At The Irish Pub in New York, European soccer schedules are listed on posters each day outside, on the sidewalk of Seventh Avenue. But in the days before the start of Euro 2008, another sign competed for attention.
And what did it say?
That Manchester United plays Portsmouth in the Community Shield on Aug. 10