England’s dreaming: When fantasy football goes wrong
Even though I was thirty-seven, carrying too much weight and beer, and not very good at playing football, it was only when the Achilles tendon in my right leg snapped twice in as many months that I decided to call time on my England career. Though that career had never begun is neither here nor there. Up until that point when IT went ‘ping’ a second time I, like so many others, was ready to drop everything to answer the call of the national team.
I have given days of my life to dreaming of receiving that phone call. Why not? It is free and fun. Sometimes it’s not what happens on the pitch, but what happens in your imagination that excites. What if we sign this player? Can we win away this weekend? Will Ray Winstone’s gargantuan-melon-of-a head suddenly appear in front of my mates and I at half time to deliver us the latest live odds?
The crushing realisation that my England dream ended early through injury is tough to take. Never mind the dismal lack of talent that had been holding me back me before, because at least then I had some form of hope.
If don Fabio made the call now and in his way of talking English, which somehow seems worse than when he first came to England, but which is still way better than my Italian, and he was to tell me that Rooney is out and I’m taking his place, I would decline the offer for the good of the team. “Sorry, Mr Capello, but I can no longer do a job for you. Why not instead pick…”
Ah, here we enter a whole different territory. Imagining you are England manager, responsible for choosing players, formations and tactics, is no substitute for imagining you are playing for England. We all do it, though, step into the manager’s shoes, but the England manager trip is not a happy one.
Your imagined appointment begins well enough. There is an air of optimism. Not new optimism, because we have been here many times before, but optimism nonetheless.
However, there is also an undercurrent of extreme pressure. I don’t need Ray’s head to appear in my face to tell me the odds are low on there being a high percentage of English football fans willing to donate an organ or two to see England win a World Cup in their lifetime. The desire to lift that trophy, any trophy, is palpable.
This strange, but oh so powerful hunger for national team success wafts in strong and thick, at Wembley it chokes the team.
This huge ugly weight of expectation grows and eventually collides with the fact the England team is agonisingly only above average. Usually this manifests itself in the form of a couple of publicly perceived poor results and performances. England hint at success, rather than convince. They always have. That’s the problem. We’re always capable of beating the rest, but consistently unable to beat the best when it matters. That is our place. This is what you must take on when you begin dreaming of being England manager (take note, Harry).
After the bad results and performances the nightmare properly sets in. Questions are raised. Your every choice as England manager is placed under harsh scrutiny, and you smell of blood. Across the country the baying pack want you gone, and pretty soon a graphic designer working in a tabloid art department will be mocking up you up as radish, or some other root vegetable for its back page.
Not long after this the FA have you out. Great compensation, yes, but your reputation is soiled. Your achievements are not understood or valued by your countrymen, and work, which can lead to redemption of sorts, is only available abroad or in the lower leagues.
That is why I can’t daydream about being England manager. I can’t stand the stress. I am not a masochist. Instead I drift into thinking of a really desperate situation. A butterfly flaps its wings in China and everyone capable of taking my place in the England squad, which would probably be every English person, breaks an ankle as a result (sorry everyone, but this is my fantasy). Injury or not, the team is short and I have no other option but to take my place on the bench amongst the other subs and hope I’m not brought on.