Since I started watching football over ten years ago, I greeted major tournaments with enthusiasm and while my head said England could never win one, my heart would say it was possible. Occasionally the two would overlap and I would be convinced England had a chance.
Not this summer. With the England players enjoying their summer holidays and Steve McClaren wondering “what if”, Euro 2008 will take place without the Three Lions. While most England fans are disappointed at the national team’s absence, it gives us all a chance to appreciate the football on offer at a major tournament, rather than watching wall-to-wall news coverage about an England player’s metatarsal.
Firstly, the pre-game programmes and half-time analysis will not focus on the issues surrounding the England camp, meaning will not have to put up with Garth Crooks and Gabriel Clarke reporting about the contents of Wayne Rooney’s lunch during the interval.
During the last World Cup, I was unable to focus on the other stories of the tournament due to my obsession with England. Indeed, it took me a week to recover from the trauma that was England’s defeat against Portugal and I only took a passing interest in the semi-finals before recovering to watch the 3rd/4th play-off and the final itself.
This time, however, I will be watching the football on offer as a neutral. The European Championship has often been a more exciting competition than the World Cup, due to the fact that the majority of the 16 teams competing are of a higher standard. Without England we can be enthralled by the drama of the tournament, rather than England’s campaign.
Of course the main attractions will be the giants of European football; France, Italy, Holland, Germany, but there will be other worthy teams competing. Since I will be in Switzerland for the tournament, I will be supporting them. It would mean that the atmosphere in the joint-host nation would be sustained for longer, and since I have links to the country, perhaps it will finally bring out the hidden patriot in me.
The fact is, coverage of other matches major tournaments is often sacrificed in favour of England, since the broadcasters and the fans are too busy with the latter to care about the former. With the absence of England, perhaps we can pay more attention to a great tournament this time round.