Aidan Smith: The ‘golden generation’

Ashley Cole. Picture: Getty
Ashley Cole. Picture: Getty
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THEY’RE hanging on, the golden generation, and hoping for representation at a fourth World Cup. A remarkable achievement especially when you ask – and it’s one of my favourite football questions – whoever called them golden in the first place?

Ashley Cole, pictured, is the gilded one who can get to Rio for four-in-a-row. Rio won’t be in Rio – Ferdinand, that is – barring an emergency forcing him out of retirement. John Terry could yet be there, I suppose, but he wasn’t in Japan and South Korea and neither were Frank Lampard or Steven Gerrard. So if the golden gang ever meet up to compare their goldenness, Ash would really have something to brag about. Yes, Stevie G has made it to England captain. Yes, Lamps has made it to 100 caps. Yes, David Beckham may be given a knighthood. But four World Cups? That’s some going.

I wonder if they do get together. Over a few drinks, there would be much scope for congratulating each other on their great good fortune. Possibly Rio and JT would do alternate gatherings, seeing as how they aren’t as close as they used to be, but imagine the merriment to be had from reading aloud chapters from each other’s 2006 World Cup books – the books they all signed up to write in advance of the tournament, presumably in anticipation of winning it. Imagine the hooting over the whopping advances, the paltry sales.

But maybe, just maybe, as these hilarious affairs wind down, there would be something akin to self-scrutiny. “Hey Lamps,” Ash might say, “how did we get to be called the golden generation again?” How indeed. It’s always annoyed me. The epithet surely has to be earned.

The Portugal of Luis Figo and Rui Costa earned it for winning World Youth Championships. By the Euros in 2000 they’d been together, progressing through the age levels, for a decade. The England team at the Germany World Cup weren’t, as kids, identified as a team of the future and nor did they win anything to suggest they could be. But that tournament was to be their destiny and revisionism, lazy journalism, hype, the cult of celebrity and Sven-Goran Eriksson’s swooning love for Becks in particular all combined to turn them “golden”.

Journalists, I’m afraid, do have a lot to answer for. It also annoys me when rock bands are suddenly referred to as “supergroups”. This happened to Oasis at their peak but the term has nothing to do with success. Historically, a supergroup was a coming-together of talents from established combos, like an all-star select in football. ELP, with top signings from King Crimson, the Nice and Atomic Rooster, were one supergroup, Cream were another.

Where were we? Ah yes, England. After failure in Germany, Beckham quickly quit the England captaincy before he was dumped. This had echoes of Smashie and Nicey squawking “We resign!” mere seconds before Radio 1 announced: “You’re sacked!” But Goldenballs fought his way back into the team, and fair play to him for that. He always said he loved playing for England, and fair play for that, too. His game deteriorated further, but he was now displaying maturity, modesty, politeness and a sense of humour, which for the English, who were beginning to accept they might not win another World Cup, were decent consolations. His 100th cap was like a coronation and the English have always loved those.

Lampard was dumped but he wouldn’t go away either, wouldn’t stop scoring important, deflected goals. But has the Lampard-Gerard conundrum really been solved? Or has what was once seen as one of the great mysteries of the age been forgotten about now he’s England’s latest centurion? To be fair to him – and he’s a good lad who’s always talked well – he’s worried about missing out on Brazil. He knows reputation alone won’t get him there, far less sentiment. And Cole must be aware that, when people were calling him the best left-back on the planet, Philipp Lahm was around, and now there’s Leighton Baines with his goal threat to challenge the Cole staple – tackling with a scowl.

The last survivors of the golden generation are already experiencing a process you could call King Midas in Reverse. And you’re right: that was a song by the Hollies, one of whom then joined Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, a real supergroup.