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Come on Gareth, give me back my England optimism

PUBLISHED: 06:39 25 May 2018

England manager Gareth Southgate - can his team restore national footballing pride in Russia this summer? Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

England manager Gareth Southgate - can his team restore national footballing pride in Russia this summer? Picture: Adam Davy/PA Wire.

PA Wire

Doers ‘three lions on a short’ still mean as much in this money-obsessed era of football? Nick Conrad is not so sure.

Football. Futbol. Fußball. Calcio. Soccer.

No matter what you call it, no other sport comes close to matching the worldwide passion for the beautiful game. But as the game’s ultimate tournament is about to kick-off I’m happy to turn off. Partly due to my reservations about Russia being a suitable host country, but also because I’ve cried enough tears over our national team’s misfortune.

I like to think of myself as a true patriot; however my allegiance to my county thrashes my support for the country when it comes to football. As I bark from the Barclay, I can feel my passion for the boys in yellow and green surge through my veins. By comparison, my roar for the Three Lions has muted somewhat.

I’d dearly love for the England team to seize the famous trophy in Russia. It would be a perfect boost at a challenging time for our country, but I struggle to identify with these overpaid players. I want their passion to reflect my heartfelt love of this country. I want to see them bark out the National Anthem, like the players used to do. In years gone by you could see players puff their chests out, their mouths wide open chanting each verse, you knew they cared. All of this lead me to the belief that our warriors would lay their lives down, in a footballing sense, for their country, Stuart Pearce and Paul Ince being perfect examples.

So as we approach Russia 2018 would you consider yourself a youthful optimist or a learned pessimist? As a youngster I loved all the internationals. Everyone remembers that romantic memory of your very first tournament, the giddy excitement mixed with the expectation that England will win.

My inaugural dip into the turbulent pastime that is following England was Euro 1996. I still have shivers when I think of poor Gareth Southgate stepping forward to strike that penalty. The walk up the stairs to my bed felt so long and painful that night. It felt like things wouldn’t be the same again. And then I recovered enough to be ‘gutted’ again, this time by David Beckham in 1998.

It’s ludicrous - and slightly embarrassing - for a nation boasting our football heritage that we haven’t had a good crack at winning a tournament since we ‘brought football home’. I think a series of defeats and lacklustre performances has instilled a protective feeling of apathy within me. It only hurts if I believe it could happen. It’s funny how a cynicism has crept into my view of all competitions we’re involved in, even Eurovision. By comparison, the young me believed we could beat anyone at anything. I long for a bit of that blind optimism again.

The Euro 96 team were heroes for me. I felt I could identify with Gazza, Shearer, Pearc eetc…Their pride was etched in the sweat-filled furrows on their brows. I’m sadly not convinced the modern-day-footballer bleeds national pride in quite the same way those lads did. Money has polluted the game.

Young boys and girls need role models, and I’m not sure that we should be encouraging a sycophantic love of footballers, but this generation has a precious opportunity to make a national dream come true.

In a ironic twist, that same Gareth Southgate who shattered our fantasy in 1996 now finds himself in the dugout. The talented 47-year-old is charged with restoring our national footballing pride. And if anyone deserves success it’s Gareth. A nation expected 22 years ago and he couldn’t deliver. I’d love to think fate could deal him a kinder hand this time.

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