Magazine article The Spectator

Do or Die

Magazine article The Spectator

Do or Die

Article excerpt

The knives are glinting. The tabloids' art desks stand ready to superimpose the turnip's head. Should England's footballers fail to win the two home matches, against Israel on Saturday and Russia on Wednesday, they are surely doomed to elimination from next summer's European Championship finals, and their hapless manager Steve McClaren to redundancy and character assassination by a thousand cuts. As his teams have hobbled from one qualifying disappointment to another, there has always been the hope -- presumption even -- that when the endgame was called this autumn a fit and settled team would be in place handsomely to dismiss the doubters and bin their sarcastic jibes. After all, and in spite of having no track record to speak of, McClaren's jaunty enough front has always been an upbeat one -- smart, smiling, assured and insistent on the snappy spin-doctor's optimistic 'positives' that, when it mattered, all would be right on the night.

Overtures done, the reckoning has now arrived. McClaren's persuasive convictions had long been grounded in the certainty that, no worries, these two crucial September matches would be won by an overwhelming force of nature, noise and national pride inspired by his England team's return to its rebuilt stadium, what he described as 'our fortress Wembley'.

Alas, that was a far from infallible forecast: in the spluttering, haphazard loss to a secondstring German side in the rehearsal a fortnight ago, McClaren and his men were jeered long before the end, collective derision punctuated only by the sharp clack of plastic seats being upturned as thousands left early. Soon after half-time even, whole swaths of best-view debenture seats below the corporate hospitality boxes remained empty as the prawn-sandwich fat-cat legions preferred more fizz and longer chat about City bonuses to watching England's direly humdrum play. …

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