Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt


If you're a proper football supporter, getting excited about England on the eve of a major tournament is considered uncool. I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to engage people in conversation about England's chances, only to be greeted with a look of bored condescension. 'I'm not really interested in international football,' is the inevitable reply.

Well, sorry, but I'm pretty fired up about the Euros -- although, to be fair, I do conform to the stereotype of the inauthentic, prawn-sandwich-eating fan. When people are polite enough to respond to my opening gambits, it isn't long before I reveal my ignorance about the game. For instance, there was the time I found myself seated across the aisle from Glenn Hoddle on a British Airways flight to Tel Aviv to watch England play Israel in a Euro qualifier in 2007.

'How come Craig Bellamy's not in the squad?' I asked him, referring to the Liverpool striker who'd racked up seven goals that season.

'Er, because he's Welsh?'

That match resulted in a dismal 0-0 draw and England failed to qualify for Euro 2008, but my enthusiasm for the national team remained undimmed. Even our failure to get beyond the group stage in the most recent World Cup, Brazil 2014, did nothing to dent it.

My love affair with England began with the 1990 World Cup. I was in the South of France for the knock-out stage and, back then, it was hard to get British TV outside the UK. I had to watch England's three big games on a 12-inch black-and-white set and listen to the commentary in French.

Obviously, that enhanced the whole experience. First of all, you feel about 20 times more patriotic when watching England abroad. I experienced this again when we played Germany in the semi-finals of the 1996 European Championship, which I watched in a sports bar in New York surrounded by Germans. But my nationalism was off the scale in 1990. The fact that the French commentators were clearly impressed by our players helped. They were particularly fond of Chris Waddle, who played for Marseilles. They also seemed to have a lot of time for Paul Gascoigne, possibly because of his French-sounding name. …

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