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Skiving international football traitors

Charlie Butterworth on the recent resignations that set up the national team for success

Published on August 10th 2010.


Skiving international football traitors

Emile Heskey, Paul Robinson and Wes Brown have resigned from the international game. Bless those disloyal footballing calamities for sparing us from ever watching them stumble round the football pitch dressed in the England kit. The good news is that England will do better without them. The team can’t do worse after all.

When footballers turn their backs on international football they are not only being disloyal to their country but also to the ideal of football: that noble notion of team-playing hardwork, allied to skill and dedication to the cause. They mock the dreams of all the young players who will never play at such a level. They mock their own dreams when they were young, they forget what it was like.

Most of us had thought Heskey resigned during the Algeria game in summer, as for Brown he’s never been remotely good enough for England. Robinson meanwhile is being pathetically bitter after not being included in the squad for South Africa.

What is breathtaking about these decisions though is their sheer arrogance, their cynical destruction of what football is supposed to be about.

All over England in June millions of kids and adults willed England to do well. They wanted to bask in the reflected glory of a successful team.

Think of the kids in particular.

Before and between matches they would pretend to be their favourite stars, they would live England. They would all give everything for a chance of just one second of one minute of ninety minutes playing with the three lions on their chest – one day.

If they were anything like me they would have spent long moments day-dreaming of scoring the winning goal for England in a World Cup Final.

My dream in 1982 was of a final between England and Brazil and it went like this.

Socrates, the Brazilian midfielder, wacks the ball fiercely against the England crossbar with thirty seconds of extra-time left. The ball bounces beyond the English penalty box and out towards the half way line. Then it’s a straight sprint between me, as England centre-forward, and three Brazilian defenders for the ball. I get there first, dink it over one fella, dummy the next and leap over the last-ditch attempt to bring me down by the third.

Then it’s the long run to the penalty box and the waiting Peres in the Brazilian net. As I run I am conscious of the millions watching on TV and the thousands in the stadium. I feint to the left and push the ball wide right of the advancing goalkeeper.

Then stillness. Just me, the empty net in front and the World Cup to win. I go close to the line chip the ball up a couple of feet and then volley it so hard into the roof of the goal it nearly breaks the thing.

This, by the way, follows me having scored a last minute equaliser to make the match 4-4 in normal time.

When footballers turn their backs on international football they are not only being disloyal to their country but also to the ideal of football: that noble notion of team-playing hardwork, allied to skill and dedication to the cause. They mock the dreams of all the young players who will never play at such a level. They mock their own dreams when they were young, they forget what it was like.

Paul Scholes is the best English player in the last twenty years but I can never forgive him for retiring from England. Never mind having twenty minutes to make up his mind whether to join the England squad in South Africa, he should have been banging on Capello’s door and begging for forgiveness on his knees for ever turning his back on the team.

As for Wes Brown, how bloody dare he retire? Who the hell does he think he is?

All of which is doubly disturbing because after the footballing fiasco in South Africa I’ve been feeling strangely relaxed.

Indeed there have been whole weekends where I’ve not been driven to check scores on my phone. And then driven to do it again three minutes later. I’ve not had to talk about football line-ups, Liverpool, Everton, United, City. I’ve not debated whether Roy Hodgson, Fabio Capello or Sir Alex would look better as a pantomime dame if you gave them a frock, pinny, and make-up.

I even sort of let the Community Shield drift by watching it as though it were merely a run-out between friends. I only half registered the clear potential of Hernandez and his remarkable skill in one-twoing the ball into the net from his face. I thought I’d get into the lower league matches a week later than usual.

Now that sang froid has melted. Because of three mediocre players.

The bloody thing’s got to me already. I thought I’d have an extra week of relaxation but now I’m back on the nine-month track of football chat and goal following.

Blow the whistle ref, for Gawd’s sake.

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