Inconceivable as it may sound to some in both Australia and England, there is a deep down affection for the Old Country in these Antipodes. Those of British stock, in particular, can’t help but want England to do well in football competitions – but only if Australia is no longer in contention.
I should emphasise from the start, that sentiment is not universal. There are plenty of Aussies who would rather see England lose than Australia win, but they are the minority. For those of us who grew up in the 60s, 70s and 80s, football on TV was just English football.
Brian Moore and Hugh Johns were the voices of football… and pretty much the only voices. To this day we know Martin Tyler better than we know Simon Hill. Back then I very quickly was confirmed as an Arsenal fan, but as The Big Match show covered not just the top league but also the lower divisions, 15 year-old me knew much more about the likes of Oxford United, Accrington Stanley and Yeovil than I did about Sydney Olympic or Marconi – major clubs in my own white bread southern city.
I’ve no doubt this lack of exposure held Australian football back, but to use an expression I detest: it is what it is. There’s no turning back the clock so this article is about growing up supporting the English teams, and by extension, England in the major tournaments.
Australia was never in those major tournaments, after all, but the players we saw on telly every week were (except in 1974 of course. Australia was there after Jimmy Rooney’s heroics but England screwed up abysmally against Poland and did not take part). I’m talking about all the years between then and 2006. And for any who doubt my patriotism, I refer you to an article written about Australia v Uruguay in November 2005.
Before then, if I wanted to support a team at the World Cup, or the Euros, which also got way more press time than anything in which Australia may have been involved, I had to pick a team from the other side of the planet.
In fact, I was occasionally jealous of other kids from Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil etc. They had ready-made teams to barrack for, even if born in Australia and fifth generation. Their choices were clear.
I had to make a conscious choice to follow a different team – and English players were the only ones I knew. And they were crap.
It must be bad enough supporting England when you’re English, but imagine how it feels when England are in most other contexts – cricket for example – the arch enemy. Australians who follow England probably feel a bit like Lord Haw Haw – the Irish American who joined the Nazi Party and took out German citizenship in 1940. Bad choice.
But you have to support someone. I grew up used to Australia not taking part in the tournaments that mattered and the English players were the ones I knew from the telly. And I’m not the only one. Just about all my mates are going for England – Aussies to a man – and they’re doing it because they’ve always done it. We go for Australia until they’re knocked out – then we go for England – and then we go for someone with a genuine chance of winning.
Oddly enough, this time, England have made the semi-finals so must be regarded as being in with a decent shout. Weird though that may sound.
Just like the English I’m bewildered by the fact that England are yet to be knocked out, and I’m constantly humming Three Lions as I stalk the corridors at work, reminiscing about Barnes, Lineker, Shearer, Adams, Seaman, Gazza, Scholes, the Nevilles, Platty, Beckham, Southgate and all the other losers.
I actually said in my European blog on England that I fancied England’s chances of doing something special this time, but even I hardly believed it myself. I suspected Southgate had chosen a squad to develop for the next Euros and World Cup – but couldn’t help but see the possibilities.
England are down to the few and could really win it. Come on England!
As for the next Euros – once again, we Australians will have to pick a surrogate team to support.
Or will we?
They let us into Eurovision. Who’s to say we might not one day win the European Cup?
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.