Friday, July 19, 2024

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The death of patriotism

Painted England fan

The night of May 21st 2008 was my most distressing as a football fan. I’m not trying to come over all‘Jamie Carragher’ here (excuse the semantics), but as much as I love the England national team, this time the pain eclipsed anything I had felt following the furor and ultimate disappointment of an international tournament.


Losing on penalties in the Champions League final like that, after an enthralling game, hurt more than watching a listless England side deservedly get knocked out in the quarter-finals. I’m not proud of it, but it was worse than Euro96 and France98.



The fact that Manchester United and Chelsea were contesting the Champions League final itself was a monumental achievement that highlighted the preeminence of English football. But some people saw it as a lose-lose situation: one of two teams they disliked would ultimately emerge victorious.

In the weeks running up to the game, as I smugly asked my friends who they wanted to win, a common response was, “I hope they both lose.” Seeing a foreign team win the Champions League was more palatable than a domestic rival lifting the trophy. If the roles were reversed I'd have felt exactly the same.

My first introduction to the phenomenon came in 1999, as Manchester United were set to take on Bayern Munich in the final. At school everyone was backing United because they were 'The English team', but the pretence wasn’t sitting comfortably with me.

I couldn’t shake the fact, built up over a lifetime, that I just didn’t like Manchester United. Whatever the circumstances, I didn’t want them to win. Even more so in a match that meant so much.

That night in
Istanbul still haunts me too. By this point in my life I was comfortable in the knowledge that my profound dislike of Liverpool needn’t be masked. They didn't deserve to be in the Champions League final and I was open in my desire for them to lose the game.


I can’t deny that at half-time I was brimming with joy. Finally Liverpool had been found out. On the biggest stage of all, in front of 1/3 of the world’s population, they were being taught a lesson; being shamed by the consummate brilliance of Milan. I could barely muster the empathy to resist sending out condescending texts.

What transpired from there on in everyone knows. But as Andrei Shevchenko’s chin quivered as he stepped up to take his penalty, the dismay I felt was profound. The image of Steven Gerrard shaking the trophy around like a tit still rankles me.

In the cold light of day I can see the positives of Manchester United and Liverpool winning the Champions League. It is a boost for the profile and prestige of the English Premier League, which in turn reflects better on the clubs therein. But to me that offers scant consolation in contrast to the torment of watching teams I have only contempt for lifting the most illustrious trophy in club football.

I can’t help but feel this way, and I’d like not to. It’s not a conscious decision, but instead a natural set of emotions that arise according to a given situation. It’s instinct.

Perhaps things would have been different back in the days or yore, when the likes of Forest and Villa triumphed over the rest of Europe, going it alone with a team of home-nation stalwarts.

Globalisation has affected every aspect of our lives and whilst certain barriers have been removed in their place new ones have arisen. Gone - or at least going – is the nationalistic fervour that attaches itself to English football, and in it’s place is a greater domestic rivalry.

At the end of the day, in the same way I’d never throw my support behind a London club if Chelsea got knocked out the FA Cup, I don’t want to see another English team to win the Champions League. Maybe it’s not right but it’s just the way it is. I’d like to know what you think…




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