Opinion: Affable Three Lions restore hope and patriotism at World Cup 2018 | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 11.07.2018
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Opinion: Affable Three Lions restore hope and patriotism at World Cup 2018

DW's Matt Pearson's love for the England team was severely depleted, but this World Cup has restored some pride and even patriotism. The team's displays on and off the pitch are winning them admirers both old and new.

My interest in England's national team had been on the wane for years. But it had all started out so well. My first memories of international football, at the age of seven, are of Italia '90, the last time England reached the semifinals of a World Cup.

David Platt's last-gasp winner against Belgium, Paul Gascoigne's tears and the agonizing penalty misses of Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle rubber-stamped my already burgeoning obsession with football, while also teaching me the painful lesson that England fans shouldn't really expect. But at least I completed the sticker album.

Seven World Cups later (including the failure to even qualify for USA '94) and that early lesson has been invaluable. A pair of quarterfinal defeats with the so-called 'golden generation' in 2002 and 2006 had been as good as it got until Gareth Southgates' men beat Sweden on Saturday.

Kommentarbild Matt Pearson

DW's Matt Pearson

Teamwork over individual talent

The current crop is less heralded and less talented than many of their recent predecessors. With the exception of Harry Kane, and possibly Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling, none of the class of 2018 approach the routine domestic brilliance of Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, David Beckham or Paul Scholes.

What they do seem to be is a better team, with a coach who prefers to emphasize the collective good rather than pander to individual stars, and a genuinely likeable bunch.

This last point is critical. I, and many England fans like me, don't expect trophies but we do expect to feel a deep-rooted connection to our team. For me, that feeling had been eroded in the last decade. A small but persistent knot of idiotic traveling fans, arrogant - and in a few cases deeply unpleasant - players and a culture, particularly under Fabio Capello in 2010, of deliberately widening the enormous gulf between the team and those they represent gradually took a heavy toll.

Despite spending a fair chunk of my career watching football, and being prepared to wake up at 4am to watch my club team while living on the other side of the world, I've barely watched an England match outside of a tournament in a personal capacity in the last decade.

Fußball WM 2018 Kolumbien vs England (Reuters/K. Pfaffenbach)

Gareth Southgate's side have exceeded expectations in Russia

When people asked me how I expected England to get on before the tournament, I told them I just wanted to see them play entertaining football, something they haven't really managed on the big stage since Euro 2008.

Bridging the divide

With 11 goals in their five games to date, they've done that this time, albeit only in patches and with a reliance on set-pieces that is a feather in Southgate's cap but perhaps also demonstrates some of his team's limitations. Yes, they've had about as easy a run to the last four as it's possible to get but suddenly hope, optimism and, whisper it, patriotism has returned to a nation where displaying the flag has long been a deeply complex and political decision. And where the fallout of the Brexit vote two years ago continues to expose deep divisions, both in the public and the government.

Most of all it's fun. I've watched England games in the old country and abroad this summer and the overwhelming sense is that people are enjoying the ride while being completely prepared for the seemingly-inevitable moment when it'll all blow up in our sunburnt faces.

"Everyone seems to know the score/They've seen it all before/They just know, they're so sure/That England's going to throw it away, gonna blow it away/But I know they can play."

David Baddiel, Frank Skinner und The Lightning Seeds
British Singer and Songwriter
Member of... (Picture-Alliance/Photoshot)

Ian Broudie, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel top the charts again, 22 years after the original release of Three Lions

Top of the pops

So runs the first verse of Three Lions, the song originally written for Euro '96 - the home tournament when England reached the last four. It's enjoyed an incredible renaissance in recent weeks, rising back to number one in the national charts as this unfancied and inexperienced band of players has kept leaping hurdles that previously sent them sprawling on to the turf, even exorcising the World Cup penalty shootout ghost, for now at least.

Rarely can a song have captured a national mood so precisely. The lyrics penned by musician Ian Broudie, of the Lightning Seeds, and comedians Frank Skinner and David Baddiel deal in caution and misty-eyed reminiscence before finally releasing choruses of wide-eyed hope tinged with a slight awareness that we may be deceiving ourselves - a nod to the self-deprecation that's a national trait.

Maybe that's justified, maybe Croatia will extend the 52 years of hurt. But even if they do, this campaign has achieved an enormous amount. England has been a difficult country to be proud of in recent years but, right now, it's not. While you won't find me belting out 'God Save Our Queen' on Wednesday, Three Lions will certainly get at least a couple of run outs. It's going to be tense but, as it's been for the last few weeks, it'll be fun.  

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