Replica Shirks

Shell-shocked, I’ve been eating gargantuan wedges of humble pie after Gareth Southgate steered the Three Lions to their first major final in 55 years. Whatever the ultimate outcome, the team has, after a sluggish start, performed magnificently.

Forget the tactical analysis, and that’s not just because, like most punters, I don’t really understand the technicalities. It was evident that this was a motivated team on the front foot, with a defence and a midfield routinely winning 50/50s – and frequently 20/80s. The display was further characterised by relentless attacking, silky skills, and a will to win.

Most notably, the 53-pass play-out at the end was something you don’t see from an England team. That reflected confidence and composure. It was the kind of display that used to prompt cries of olé! on the continent but thankfully did not on this occasion.

I’ll never warm to that grotesque Pizza ad or the knee bollocks, and I still loathe the sycophantic client-press bumchums at the heart of the pisspoor BBC, who have consistently blathered to protect their mate, Gareth.

Would it not have been better for the licence-fee-funded punditry of recent years to have been more incisive so that fans might have been able to see the specific positives of what was being fashioned during the darker days?

Instead, we had the ‘sensible, intelligent guy’ gloss and a wheelbarrow-load of hope. It has made for sopping-wet, cringe-inducing TV, occasionally punctuated by cut-aways of awful ex-pros and their outrageously over-exaggerated celebrations at any England goal.

The truth is, they couldn’t see the potential of this team either but shirked their responsibilities and just lied about it, presumably because there is always a market for baseless nationalist hope. Now, they’ll step in and attempt to suck up some of the steam from that glory. That’s how the hangers-on roll.

It’s premier league replica shirking.

Give me Keane, Neville, Ian Wright, and Souness any day. All of them have rightfully pointed to the detail of embarrassing performances of recent years, which reflects an honesty that you will not for a moment have detected during BBC commentaries.

But facts are facts, and Southgate has taken the team further than any man since 1966. Yes, he’s got a fantastic array of talent at his disposal, but he’s managed to organise and motivate them to unleash their potential. Take a moment to consider the managerial cream who had previously curdled when it mattered and could never whip themselves or others up to that position.

I cannot put my finger on how he’s done it, but he has. Somebody somewhere saw his potential, took a brave call, and it’s now paid off. They should be enjoying the plaudits now while I’m voluntarily taping myself up in my own box.

And he’s even today come out with a World War II metaphor even though Germany are no longer featuring.

That kind of gratuitous reference to the Hun always warms the cockles and should be saluted, albeit not with an outstretched arm and a finger-moustache.

So, win or lose in the final, the Southgate razzing should now be confined to history because facts have now determined that line of critique to be redundant. He may lose future games, and the team may have off-days, but he’s now made discernible progress. Fair play to him.

Predictably, though, all the charlatans came out from under their various stone in order to ingest some serious stardust from the bandwagon exhaust. And yes, at the match, Boris Johnson rocked up with an England shirt under his blazer as if PE had been the last lesson of the day.

There’s a telling metaphor here — chucking on the top reflects how Johnson wears just about anything that gets him to his goals. You could say the same about the majority of the England pundits who have now lucked out that their mate did, after all and unexpectedly, have what it takes.

I’m glad to admit that I was wrong about Southgate. What will now hurt more than the 55-year-wait will however be the smugness of those for whom ‘being right’ has fortuitously fallen onto their lap and of all the others who have overnight discovered their superfan status.

The hurt will therefore continue long after the final whistle of the Italy game – whichever way that goes.

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