The last time England were booed after a World Cup match was in 2010 and we just witnessed a performance so poor that a bird perched on the roof of the opposition net during the first half, convinced it had just found its safest. Spot in Cape Town.
On that occasion, a team including John Terry, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney spent a hot night, grateful for the 0-0 draw with Algeria, and England manager Fabio Capello put it to heart: “The fear that stops the legs, stops the mind, and stops everything.”
Rooney, who had come into that tournament with high hopes, looked out of shape, out of shape and out of shape, his frustration boiled over at the final whistle when he heard the England fans boo his team.
“Nice to see your fans at home booing you,” he yelled softly into the TV camera. “You are loyal supporters.”
In 2010, England were in the midst of a World Cup meltdown. Terry, who had been stripped of the captaincy four months earlier, announced in a press conference two days later that he and his team mates would express their frustration with Capello at that evening’s meeting.
“If it bothers him or any player, so what? Sod it,” said Terry, to the amazement of many in his own crowd, really.
Capello stamped out that apparent rebellion as England beat Slovenia 1-0 in their final group match to advance to the knockout stages. But by finishing second to the United States, they put themselves on course to face Germany in the Round of 16. And there they were humiliated, crushed 4-1, and Terry, Gerrard, Rooney and their teammates returned home as something approaching. National outcasts.
Qatar 2022 feels nothing like South Africa 2010. There was a hold in England playing as they drew 0-0 with the United States on Friday night, but it wasn’t ‘fear’ that defined them in the late 2000s and through much of the 2010s. There is no possibility of a disillusioned player threatening to rebel against the coach, or indeed a player responding to the jeers of the crowd by mocking their supposed loyalty to the cause.
Instead, what we got on Friday night were calm, measured reflections from those players who stopped by to talk to reporters in the mixed zone.
“It was probably a fair result if I’m being honest,” said vice-captain Jordan Henderson. the athlete afterwards. “It was a tough game. The USA did well and made it difficult for us, as we knew they would. A bit disappointing because we didn’t score, but still it’s a positive in the fact that we kept a clean sheet, so it’s not It’s all bad and bleak. It’s a point and it’s still in good shape and it’s in our hands for the next game.”
fucking? “You obviously have high expectations of this team and so do we,” said the Liverpool midfielder. “We came after the game and of course we’re disappointed because we want to win every time we play, but that’s not how football works sometimes. You have to give credit to the opponent and we always know it’s going to be difficult in the World Cup.”
When asked about the booing, Henderson pointed out that the same thing happened at Wembley on the way to last year’s European Championship final. “I think it was the second game that we drew 0-0 against Scotland,” he said. “So there is still a lot to play for, we are still in a good position and we just need to go out and prove a point in the next game.”
Like his manager’s response, it’s perfectly measured. Perhaps too calculated and too quiet for some tastes.
It was one of England’s championship performances that gets people mad: big buildup, big expectations, big emotional investment (and for those fans here in Qatar a huge financial investment) and then huge disappointment.
Michael Cox and John Mueller analyzed England’s performance in depth here: the slow pace; risk avoidance in possession; Kieran Trippier, Luke Shaw, Judd Bellingham and Mason Mount struggle to make an impact moving forward against a spirited, well-organized and talented American team bent on holding them back; The conservative nature of Southgate’s substitutions, waiting 65 minutes before making two equal changes keeping Phil Foden and Trent Alexander-Arnold on the bench throughout.
The criticisms are legitimate, but so is the context presented in the mitigation. “Of course the fans want to see goals and win games,” Trippier said. “Of course we understand the frustration because we didn’t win the match, but we gave everything. The point is a good result. Unfortunately we didn’t win, but it’s a good point. We kept a clean sheet, it’s a good point for us in the group and now we move on. Focus on the next game.”
Totally correct. The performance was disappointing, but the equalizer, on the back of a 6-2 win over Iran, left them all secured a place in the knockout stages. Even if Wales beat them by three goals on Tuesday, England will pass. Most teams in this tournament would gladly accept this scenario going into their final group game; Certainly Argentina and Germany, who were defeated by Saudi Arabia and Japan, respectively.
It is certainly not the scenario of 2010 – let alone a repeat of four years later, when England were knocked out after two matches, losing to Italy and Uruguay. That was a tougher set up in 2014, and the pool of talent available to Roy Hodgson was a lot less attractive than it is at Southgate now, but also the expectations were a lot lower; After a horrendous 0-0 draw in their final game in Brazil, a forfeited affair against Costa Rica, the England players were applauded heartily by those fans who have traveled so far, spent so much and given so little joy.
Two years later in Nice, they were knocked out of the European Championship by Iceland. Now that’s one she did It attracts an almost angry reaction from fans. How not? It was a disastrous performance devoid of structure, purpose, and faith, let alone coherence or skill. If there was ever a time when England fans had the right to boo and mock their team, it was in the mid-2010s.
Between 2010 and 2016, England played 15 matches in the tournament, winning just four (against Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine and Wales) and never exceeding one goal difference. The unexpected trip to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018 came with caveats about the level of opposition, but they beat Tunisia, Panama, Colombia (on penalties) and Sweden in that tournament and beat Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Ukraine and Ukraine. Denmark in the Eurozone before losing to Italy on penalties in the final.
In this context, it is as if England fans have developed a remarkably low tolerance for poor performance, booing them after mediocre performances but decent results left the team in a strong position. Friday night may have had a hugely disappointing legacy in the Nations League (six games, three draws and three defeats, including a 4-0 home defeat by Hungary) but given the same reaction that followed the tie against Scotland at the Euros, it may be that. It’s just a case of the fandom’s sentiments being entitled to demand better.
Totally normal, of course; It can be hard to look at the young talents in this squad – both on the field and off the bench, such as Foden and Alexander-Arnold – and accept such an underwhelming performance.
This frustration is due in part to the approach. Southgate’s style is fairly cautious – not all-out defense by any means, but safety first for the most part. They played freely when they beat Iran 6-2 on Monday, but Friday night was very much a handbrake situation. And when you play with the handbrake and fail to win, it causes excitement, especially when you have a lot of attacking players at your disposal.
But these games take place in tournaments. Take a look at England’s World Cup history, and a 6-2 win over Iran seems like more than a 0-0 draw with the United States.
It’s encouraging that Southgate and his players responded with more calm on Friday – to the way the game went and the disappointment the fans aired at the final whistle – than they did the England players in Cape Town 12 years ago. There is much their performance lacks, but at no time did they appear frozen in fear or overcome with frustration like Rooney against Algeria.
There was something Southgate said afterwards: “People will respond how they’re going to react. I can’t let that affect how I feel. This is the Outside Noise Championship, we’ve got another layer of that I’m sure, but we’re still on the right track.”
“Championship of Outer Noise” is a fancy phrase. There have been many tournaments in the past when England seemed to be overwhelmed by this hype – particularly the noise from the media – but under Southgate they have been very good at preventing it and rising above it.
Once the noise starts, the only way to prevent it from being amplified is to win. This is Southgate’s third tournament, and having created a more upbeat soundtrack in the previous two editions, he and his team need to keep those good vibes alive. If not, they’ll just have to face the music.
(Top photo: Berengui/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)