Whilst I am loathe to suggest that England’s footballing fortunes have dramatically improved (and I seriously doubt they will win a major tournament any time soon), when one pauses to look at arguably the lowest point of the 21st Century, it might be suggested that some progress has been made.
It was the summer of 2016, and after a somewhat poor World Cup for England two years earlier, there existed cautious bubble of optimism for Roy Hodgson’s England. Striker Harry Kane had burst onto the scene, Wayne Rooney would play in his last international tournament, the likes of Jamie Vardy (the in-form star of the moment) and Daniel Sturridge bolstered England’s firepower, and the group stage pitted England against Slovakia, Russia, and Wales. In principle, despite the pessimism that pervaded my impressions of England at the time, the group was comfortably winnable.
Except we didn’t win it. England were arguably a bit unlucky not to beat Russia, then laboured to a win over Wales, and played out a tame goalless draw with Slovakia. The reward for all of this was to play Iceland in the 2nd Round.
Consider the situation. England is a nation with a proud footballing history. The Premier League is one of the biggest and best leagues in the world. Football is a national pastime. More people play football in England than live in Iceland. As such, you would think an England win, despite the woes of the time, would be a foregone conclusion. Nope.
Despite taking an early lead, England completely fell apart under even the slightest pressure. It was as awkward and embarrassing a performance as I have ever seen from an England side. Compounding this terrible display were some strange decisions from Hodgson, like having Kane take set-pieces. Surely a key striker should have been on the receiving end of crosses, not delivering them?! England ended up 2-1 down, and lacked the creativity and energy to break down Iceland’s resistance. It was a miserable performance, from a group of good players that just never gelled as a cohesive unit.
Things have improved considerably since that terrible summer evening, though my expectations with England remain low. I could live to be 90, and in that time, I don’t expect any footballing glory to come our way.