Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The K(nots) of Roy

There will be knots.

Roy Hodgson's already ducking the overtones of racism, having to explain the inexplainable re: Ferdinand, having to justify those South African circuit-breaking years. He's a footballing guy, has credentials, but the England manager is only partly about the football (the Liverpool job is a similar chalice, perhaps); it's more about addressing the psychology of the nation, managing expectation and, especially, managing allusion (to conspiracy, to piracy, to the fragrant, skillful other). 

Add here: Swiss referees, Maradona's hands, Moller's pose, Beckham's loose turf, Southgate's pizza commercial, the divinity of Marco Van Basten...

The job is about knotting rather than untying. If he wins against the French, expectations need manipulating, moderating; loins will need still further girding. If he loses, the same. A garden of forking paths and none of them are footballing ones. It doesn't matter which way he turns because he's heading backwards, like all England managers, expecting that one day the pure ideology of hope will be enough; even in 1966 it almost wasn't, in the 1968 Euros it definitely wasn't, since we came up against a team (Yugoslavia) who wanted it more (or perhaps had belief rather than expectation).

Hope is never enough, but this time Roy has an even greater burden. This time, we have an England manager who (by no fault of his own) is managing from an almost unique and totally illusory position; namely that England are not expected to do anything in this tournament. The Media are already on the bandwagon and they're already falling off it. 

England are no hopers, England will win because they are no hopers; the bad made good. 

And Roy is there, in the middle of this terrible double-bind, aware that the same public who have no expectations are gradually getting their expectations ratcheted up, pulled apart by UK Media Shire (Shite) horses. By now, he's understanding that there's nowhere he can go with this kind of anti-expectation expectation. He's a clever guy, he's already figured out that no expectation is a word trap greater than any other. We've had a few years of that terrible, malicious, Golden Generation guff and that's muddled things in past tournaments because everyone assumed the expectation was particularly associated with that group of players rather than with England per se. Now, with all hope lost, we'll see the terrible truth. 

And so England (or more accurately Hodgson and his team, since you can't fuck with the legendary, the symbolic and the archetypal) are, brilliantly, in the worst of all positions; the more injuries, the more people will believe in some Godly intervention, in destiny... English football is full of such stories and we've just had a reminder of the 'adversity = triumph' narrative when Chelsea beat Barcelona and Bayern Munich to win the Champions League (itself a minor reinvention of the Liverpool vs AC Milan final). 

Hodgson will have to play the adversity card, he doesn't have any others and it's the card everyone  wants and needs him to play. But he must also know that playing it too soon will create unbearable pressure and playing it too late will look like moaning. The English fans, already primed with cognitive dissonance, are waiting to pounce on every minute detail, waiting to fail better again...


  1. Absolutely. The thing is there *is* a logic to the “the bad made good” – it’s just that you do have to actually *face* the bad to get free of the expectation and make the good possible. We seem constitutively incapable of doing this – we won’t allow ourselves to pause for a second to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance – in the very same breath pundits have been saying for months “we haven’t got a chance; perhaps we’ll win”. As you say, the injuries are simply adding a shrill intensity. Is it a lack of humility? Hard to deny when it comes from Shearer and co. But there still seems to be a lot more fear and denial about than anything else…

    There are interesting parallels with Liverpool FC. For 20 years just waiting for Order to return, way too scared to admit to themselves the “terrible double-bind” they’re in: if we admit we’re not the kings anymore, we’ll sink like a stone (and Utd fans will stop even caring); if we don’t, well, it’ll take that much longer – big 4, 5, 6, 7…. Hodgson tried the former, the humble “let’s face reality” approach, and the fearful prospect was suddenly rendered very real. Nakedness exposed. Off with his head, and re-enter the King. And his very expensive new (retro-80s) clothes. And a season level on points with Fulham.

    Can Hodgson have learnt anything from that? When there’s no humble reality to retreat to what on earth might “the terrible truth” look like?!

  2. Yes. I'm a Liverpool fan & the parallels are exact; so exact I can hardly bear to face it... Problem is England don't even have a Kenny, so no chance to go exactly backwards before we go forwards...