Supporting a team in football is not a fling or an affair — it is a love story where you have to support your team through thick and thin. It is a romance which has to continue irrespective of whether your team is relegated, knocked out or win the world cup.
Alan Ball (in 1970) and John Barnes (in 1996) may have done it, but it was enough for a 10-year-old kid who saw David Beckham wear those ‘unheard-of-in-India’ white shoes to whip in pinpoint crosses, defence-splitting passes and stunning free-kicks to instantly fall in love with all those teams he was associated with.
Yes, all it took was white shoes.
I would watch games for Beckham at first before my brain could comprehend the magnitude of the complexity of domestic leagues, European cups and international tournaments and how qualifying works (playing Football Manager really helps).
But when his freekick in the 93rd minute (incidentally at Old Trafford) which propelled England to World Cup 2002 made me misty eyed, I was stamped for life as an England fan.
Ten years down the line, I have realised that it is incredibly hard to support England. I realised this when Ronaldinho’s free-kick went in from miles out to knock them out of World Cup 2002. It was confirmed with their loss to France and Portugal in Euro 2004 and the World Cup. And of course we remember their failure to even qualify for Euro 2008 and their shambolic performance in World Cup 2010.
But that doesn’t mean you stop supporting a team you have always stood by. Football doesn’t work like that.
Having watched the English Premier League since 2000, I cannot help but support the nation. Their teamsheet looks fantastic on paper. Maybe not now, but half a dozen years back they boasted the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and many more household names in their prime.
Now, isn’t that a dream team? How can a team with Lampard and Gerrard in the middle not score enough goals? How can a strike partnership of Rooney and Michael Owen (technically) not find the net? How do Ferdinand and Terry let in so many goals?
The country invented the game, for heaven’s sake!
But that is how it is. England, when seen from an eagle’s eye, boast probably the best league in the world. And for Indians, who usually get telecast of matches which feature only the top five teams, we have grown up watching Gerrard snatch victory for Liverpool from the jaws of defeat, Lampard pop up in the right place to net for Chelsea and Rooney produce an audacious overhead kick to beat Manchester City.
Bring all these guys together and there you go — the perfect mix.
But it is not that easy. English stars are woeful together. Their international performances have been rubbish compared to smaller countries who do not boast leagues of their calibre.
The uncertainty that comes with supporting them is also an incentive to support them. You are a fool if you support England, but if they somehow win, then the redemption is sweet.
Probably it is very easy to support a Brazil or a Spain or a Germany. But to support England, you need guts. Now that’s not a reason I support them. There is a lot more to it… an expectation that comes with those big names makes me want to support them.
I have been lucky enough to experience the passion for football in England, and it is something which cannot be described in words — the overflowing beers, the different chants for every situation, the third division stadiums which are packed every weekend, the way cities come to a standstill for 90 minutes and the extravagant celebrations that follow a goal make me want to support a nation where football comes next only to the Queen.
And not to mention the crazy facts that are thrown up whenever England play: like Beckham always missing in penalty shootouts but scoring against Argentina in WC2002 to avenge his red-card in WC1998, like Cristiano Ronaldo winking after helping send of club teammate Rooney, like Lampard’s goal being ruled out in WC2010 and the way John Terry’s captaincy was taken, given and taken back again.
All this makes supporting England very exciting. I find it better to watch them play a stale draw against Algeria than watch Spain thrash a minnow by 5-0.
In spite of this, the stadiums in England will still be full, people will still pay £40 to watch a friendly at Wembley with no significance, they will still bring out the drums and scream as if they are the best team in the world and fall victim to irony. I will still wear my Beckham jersey when they come out to play against France on 11th June.
Call me a fool, but I’m just another fan.
P.S. England take on France tonight in a must-win match at Euro 2012