‘Still got that PVC Cross of St George? We’ve got to cheer for England again

The recovered World Cup arrives at Cannon Row police station, London in 1966.  Photograph: PA.
The recovered World Cup arrives at Cannon Row police station, London in 1966. Photograph: PA.
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I loved the story last week of the first Englishman to lift the World Cup. Not Bobby Moore, but Sidney Cugullere, or “Mr Crafty” as he was known in London’s gangland, who stole the Jules Rimet trophy a few months before the 1966 tournament.

Mr Crafty didn’t have to be crafty at all that day. A “little Woolworth’s padlock” was the sum total of the security around the winged statuette at the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster where it was being exhibited by the Stanley Gibbons stamp company.

(Did you feel that? Were you transported back to your childhood just there, to a world of tweezers, magnifying glasses, adhesive hinges, first editions and the futile quest for a Penny Black? Don’t lie!).

Outside the hall was Cugullere’s brother Reg. “’Ere you are, Reg, look at this,’ he said, opening his jacket. “F*****g hell, Sid, what the f*** do you think we’re going to do with that?”

The rest is World Cup history. The cup was found in the street by Pickles, the fourth most famous dog in England after John Noakes’ Shep, Dam Buster Guy Gibson’s Nigger and the talking mutt in the Master McGrath adverts, though the cross-bred collie later died when he was strangled by his lead chasing a cat. Then the cup was lifted by Moore, passing to Carlos Alberto when England had to put Peter “Tiddles” Bonetti in goals – understood to be a different cat from the one to be pursued by the tragic Pickles – and so began a long association with the quarter-finals of the competition, interspersed with the occasional nosebleed visit to the semis and dismal, two-games-and-out failure like last time.

And now? Harry Kane thinks England can triumph in Russia and a “top Conservative politician” wants Scots to rally round the Cross of St George and cheer the whiteshirts to glory. We’ve been here before, many times. The surprise is we’re here again. England captains and politicos seeking to demonstrate the common touch can’t seem to help themselves on a quadrennial basis. Who should know better? The politicians, definitely.

“I believe we can win it,” These were Kane’s words when he was unveiled as England’s youngest World Cup captain since Moore. Brave or foolish? He actually said that bravery, or lack of it, was an issue with the team in the past, going into World Cups. “I feel like the mentality [is] maybe [that] we’re a bit afraid we want to win stuff because we worry about the fans’ or the media’s reaction. We go into our shells. But I want us to not be afraid to say we want to win it. We have to be brave.”

See what Kane did there? He went from saying he believed England could win the World Cup to saying they shouldn’t be scared to say they want to win it. Did he have a wobble? Ever so slightly edge backwards into his shell? It wouldn’t be surprising. Footballers frequently contradict themselves in the space of a single sentence. Kane, pictured, might have adopted a mantra of positivity, upbeatness, big smiles, only to ****: “Aagh! What have I done? Have I given the hacks the line of lines, the Rosebud of quotes, the one that’ll have been painted on lorryloads of T-shirts, jellied eels and sunbathing slapheads’ hankies before I get home tonight?”

Maybe that was him retreating into his shell when he turned up on corner-kick duty at Euro 2016 – that was weird. And seasoned England-watchers are still wondering if he has the requisite toughness to be skipper when recently he seemed over-sensitive to teasing about his claims to a Tottenham goal that was never his.

Well, I don’t think he is a fool for apparently putting his neck on the line like this. He obviously wanted to disassociate himself from a certain lily-liveredness and fair play there. I don’t mind Kane, which as regards England football captains might be as close as a Scotsman can get to professing undying love. He is not a perisher like John Terry or a ponce like David Beckham. Good luck to Kane in Russia, then, though I won’t be supporting his team.

When are politicians going to stop trying to score points via football with fatuous statements like: “Every Scot should be ra-ra-ra-ing for England at the World Cup since, ha ha, they haven’t qualified yet again”? This is not a verbatim quote from Brandon Lewis, the Tory Party chairman, but it’s what he means.

Where was he in 2006 when Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Jack McConnell all used the sport as a political football? When there was a ridiculous row over what Scots should do when handed a regulation-issue PVC Cross of St George, the assumption being they should wave it vigorously, when – that patronised, that provoked – there really was only one place they were going to want to shove that stupid wee flag?

Why the heck should we have felt obliged to cheer for a team featuring Terry, Beckham and – christ – Ashley Cole? The “golden generation” who’d all signed big book deals in anticipation of triumph? Who needed those advances after their Wags melted designer-shop tills in Baden-Baden? Whose captain (Becks) rush-announced his retirement before the successor to a manager with a man-crush on him (Sven-Goran Eriksson) could drop him in a hilarious echo of Radio 1 buffoons Smashie & Nicey trying to beat the sack by quitting? Honestly, how could a Scottish football fan reasonably get behind any of this?

That’s the nub: it’s a matter for true supporters. I know nothing about Brandon Lewis, save the Wikipedia factoid that he entered parliament four years after the World Cup in Germany, but I’m willing to bet my near-complete set of two decades’ worth of my dear club’s match programmes that he’s not a fan in the old-school sense, otherwise he’d recognise that a Scot declining to favour our neighbours the other side of Hadrian’s Wall does not make him anti-English and it certainly doesn’t make him racist.

It’s rivalry, pure and simple, and if Lewis doesn’t get it, then he should seek guidance. Maybe not from David Cameron, though. The latter couldn’t remember whether he supported Aston Villa or that other team in that terribly nice Farrow & Ball-style colourway… ah yes, West Ham 
United.