Fruitcake is not the only fruit; (cake).

Mixed feelings aboundeth; should I go or stay/stick or twist/put up/shut up/disengage for the good of… something? Nah. Too much to be said and shared and okay, argued about. So let’s return to England. Please.

England the non-footie or anti-footie footie team; the Quarter Finalists(!) the redoubtable heroes, the cursed-blessed former Show Ponies now Honest Workhorses. ‘S about them again. And you – precious, brilliant or psychologically semi-detached you – you wot I heard holding court or fumbling with nerves or ranting with sweet delusion on that there phone-in – you… need to wind yer neck and listen. And then start shouting again; that’s fine. (#yourturn. That’s fine.)

Ahem. (In through nose/out through mouth… And GO!!)

The fruitcake-in-a-barrel torrent ricocheting down the plum duff river of our sporty-consciousness (5 Live/the back pages/the TV coverage) is a moody but eloquently kaleidoscopic wonder, is it not? Part home-cooked cobblers, part luminescent hope of the most exotic kind. Full of angular detritus, lobbed groundbait, eels. Right now there’s no escaping the whirl of it; the eddying and sometimes edifying snaffles of glorious opinion. Deranged or inspired, upon football generally or specifically Hodgson United – that all-new all-old construct seeping through the Euro2102 fixture list in a style offering encouragement both to the suicidally purist(ic) and the naively gaye. How one match – let’s say England v Ukraine – could be the source of so much impassioned verbage of such contrary or counter-attacking nature is… is absolutely bloody amazing, actually.

I’ve written caustically about my fear and loathing for the trend now being set by Roy and his Roverlets. The essence of it – the 2 crushing banks of 4, the absence of anything approaching that which many of us identify (without a smidge of pomp) as ‘football’ – feeling offensively reactionary to me at least. A sadly convincing photofit of/for the criminal Brit-footie-cultural inadequacies around and against which a consensus had formed moons ago. (Because we all know it’s utterly inferior to the genuinely richer and more beautiful ‘continental’ game, right? Even if we continue to make the argument that there is a place for English virtues). Spain/half of Europe (by the looks of this tournament) have played/are playing far better footie than our lot; but was this the case even before Roy got his hands on Stevie G’s rampaging instincts?

Yes!

Here I pause to differentiate between this aforementioned, elevated and now unarguably successful quality – in the example of Spanish Tippy Tappy Genius – and quality in terms of excitement.

Often ‘British’ football is of course packed with incident in a way that makes its Spanish or Italian counterparts seem frankly pallid. But this is another matter – so move on…

And yet… hold on there matey; isn’t it true that Gerrard has been by some distance England’s best player in Euro2012 thus far, thereby undermining opposition to his reinvention as an enforcing hod-carrier rather than flamboyant er… expressionist stonemason? Hasn’t that, that one instance within the reconstruction of an England side been an unqualified success?

Quite possibly. Except that this tightening of understandings and opportunities for the Liverpool man has been symbolic of the more damaging straight-jacketing (as opposed to mere ‘organising’) of his manifestly less able colleagues. I repeat my assertion that England have unsurprisingly played absolutely no football worthy of the name because of the rigidity and cynicism even of their system as well as because the players have been poor in everything but team shape and graft.

Roy Hodgson has gathered his forces swiftly together and this is clearly some achievement. They do appear to be listening to him and to be working for a shared purpose, with some conviction, in a way that sports journo’s on the spot respect and admire. (I do have a theory that because of this there is something of a softening in general critique of RH’s tactical stuff but perhaps this is the Morrissey in me breaking out?) But hasn’t the argument for retreating to ‘English’ virtues long been lost – or more precisely, is it not abundantly clear that skill/composure/comfort in possession are not only essential for betterment but integral to definitions of success?

What winning means and constitutes is always a fabulous wormy can of; but this campaign has for me a slightly depressing undertow – the unsettling feel of deceptively and shlocktastically crude bawling from the England FC touchline – even if expressed by the crypto-urbane, linguistically enhanced Mr Hodgson. The demands being for a stranglehold, for an avoidance of freedom, for a Parkeresque scurry and a prod towards safety. Then a retreat to the dullest kind of ‘stall-setting’ this particular euromarket has witnessed. Such a demand, such a coarse bellow for not losing, not losing at any cost, with no other notion of progress than getting through – even with an ordinary England Squad – rubs up against heartfelt footietruths as well as the very notion of the beautiful game itself. Hence my (laughably haughty?) concerns.

Maybe I’ve just been bad at keeping some perspective; maybe I’ve been cutting when I should have been fairer. However, this is the prerogative of the fan – and believe it or not – I am clear that I remain a football fan and that everything I ever write – scathing or soaring – is contingent upon an absolute belief in the power and the beauty even of this daft game. I do therefore contend that I still have the optimist’s argument here.

Hey look at what strikes me. The Parker-Gerrard axis has been key to England’s topping of their group. I like both. But Parker has been by his standards – by any standards – disappointingly sloppy in possession. In fact the entire team’s capacity to fail to execute simple passes in any sequence has in truth been pretty alarming. Like Parker, like Young, like Rooney was against Ukraine; virtually all of them – wasteful. Sadly, the raw talent of Oxlade-Chamberlain was clearly made vulnerable too by the occasion; his very few opportunities being characterised by schoolboy fumbles – much like his predecessor in the role of Crowd-Stirrer, Master Walcott. Wellbeck worked the unforgiving solo striker thing rather well; on occasion he was coolly intelligent as well as generous with his workrate. Would that he would have consistently held the ball up/treasured it. Like the internationals do.

Details. Hodgson will look long and hard at the facts and figures and mileages and percentages and he will judge – long after this event. For now he says the right thing. I have no personal animosity towards him or any of his players (though I accept in fanlike fury I have discharged abuse) and I fully understand his regression to that which he thinks they know. I do however, take issue on a fundamental level with his alleged ‘philosophy’ – if this is it. For this, for me, really is close to embarrassingly dumb. Win or lose against the Italians.

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