England have left the party as they so often have in the past, arriving with favour-currying bottles of Grey Goose, only for revellers to gradually discover that they’ve merely decanted Glen’s Vodka into some brand-name empties before leaving, shamefaced and friendless. And so, too, draws to a close England Euro 2012 Bingo. What began as a flippant attempt at cataloguing clichés eventually incorporated a growing sense of subversion, as certain tropes were put to rest by a savvy manager who leaves with his reputation bolstered amongst fans, media and possibly even players who were slow to accept him. Some hardy perennials – the self-destruct button, the futile defiance against the odds, simply not being good enough – can always be relied on to thrive, but the sense of entitlement, of clinging to a fading past, means that the ubiquitous, smothering presence of 1966 and arrogant claims to the game’s heritage have been waylaid. Perhaps not forever, but for the time being at least, they promise hope of something less worthy of jaded cynicism in future times.
False hope was tantalisingly proffered by Riccardo Montolivo’s penalty miss, but it didn’t matter, because once again England were simply not good enough: There were plenty of examples of this, but none more damning than Ashley Cole’s penalty miss. No-one has ever, or will ever, say of a penalty: “He’s caught it well, but the run-up just wasn’t right.” His stuttering run-up was a dismal exercise in studied nonchalance, and it sapped his shot of power and accuracy. Trying to psyche out Gigi Buffon with a tricksy run-up to the ball was simply never, ever going to work given the goalkeeper’s experience. This is something Cole can match him for, and yet the arrogant preamble to his tame kick was something you might expect from someone much younger and greener than a man who, while much-maligned, has quite possibly been England’s most consistent top-level performer since Gary Lineker.
Futile defiance against the odds: Defeat in these circumstances was a lot easier to take than failures of yore given the simple fact that Italy deserved it. England fans and players have bemoaned the lottery of the shoot-out, and the fickle nature of fate, but these traits would never have been more apparent than if Italy had lost on this occasion. There are some positives to take from the tournament though, chiefly the fact that Roy Hodgson has taught his team how to defend again. This was the faint tactical promise that shone not so much like a beacon, but like the functional high-vis coat of a paramedic: serviceable, reliable, dependable, utilitarian. For all the talk of Andrea Pirlo running the show, he still couldn’t quite engineer a goal for his team, which speaks of something positive for England’s obduracy. The odds were already stacked against England before the tournament began, due to a litany of injuries, Wayne Rooney’s suspension, John Terry’s court case, the Rio Ferdinand fiasco, and the overarching fact that Roy Hodgson had to juggle them all in a matter of weeks. The fact that England took Italy as far as they could’ve in spite of the obstacles heralds a restoration of a fighting spirit that had been lamely submissive in South Africa two years ago.
Bad luck! – If it could be said that footballers are responsible for making their own luck, then Ashley Young paid a fair price for a poor tournament by hitting his penalty against the bar. The fact is, pre-tournament brouhaha’s aside, nothing had gone against England on the pitch. There can be no recriminations, no vengeful, skyward fists – England got what they deserved and can blame no-one or nothing for their elimination. Indeed, there is some slither of good fortune to be found in the fact that it was Young that missed a penalty, rather than someone who had acquitted themselves fairly well, such as Andy Carroll. The man whose headed goal against Sweden marks a subtle reinvention from joke-butt to burgeoning Crouch-like cult figure could well have been destroyed by such a high-profile failure. Young, whose four-game disappearance was a source of huge frustration, is more worthy of some guilty introspection, as he seeks to right wrongs in the future.
Grown men crying – Well, obviously. ’Twas ever thus. ‘Twas ever fat men smearing face paint with their own salty emotions. ‘Twas ever retired stalwarts choking back the tears of vicarious adrenaline. ‘Twas ever England, England, England…