Would you rather Arsenal win the Champions League or England win the World Cup?
For that large group of readers who don’t share my nationality, the answer is pretty obvious, but the question remains valid if only in relation to a different country.
For 23 months of every biannual period, I hate international football with a passion. It usually involves us playing some minnow outfit, usually one we’ll make hard work of, and these days it also usually means watching numerous Spurs players pull on a shirt which you *want* to support but feel filthy for even considering. Most importantly, international breaks represent something terrifying, something to be avoided at all costs: no Arsenal for a fortnight.
Yet there’s simply something about tournament football which adds another dimension. The potential of winning something, however remote. (You must have listened to *that* mate who insists England can be the Leicester City of the Euros?) Or as Paul spoke about earlier this week, the potential for unity across a group of friends and family who are otherwise divided for the other 23 months of the two year cycle. Or perhaps it’s simply a case of “no Arsenal” extending beyond the tournament and into a long summer, which makes you rejoice that you can get your Arsenal fix – albeit a more inferior one – by watching our players represent their disparate nations.
I’m fiercely patriotic, for England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. And for every other sporting occasion, I have no issues whatsoever with following through on that.
I can name and usually report the most recent result of the top four British tennis players on both the male and female tours, and sit glued to the television each and every time Murray makes another Grand Slam assault.
No matter how boring a Formula 1 race or indeed championship these days, I still want Lewis Hamilton to win and the likes of Williams and McLaren to do well (or better than Ferrari and Red Bull at least).
And whether it’s rugby, cricket or tiddlywinks* I take a firm interest in the success (or failure) of my country in these sports.
*well, I would do if tiddlywinks was televised anyway…
Being English, British, UKish, they’re all identities which mean I devote an unnaturally high level of my time to following international sport.
Ironic then that the more time that passes, the stronger my club allegiances become at the expense of my patriotic ones when it comes to football. I feel dirty for even having to consider the opening conundrum – in theory my loyalty to my country ought to come before that to my club – yet there’s an added flavour here: rivalry.
With each passing international break, we are asked/expected/obliged to support players who we slate, criticise or downright despise for the remainder of the year.
Ironic too that it forces the press to praise Arsenal players like Wilshere who, despite being the worst player to ever wear the red and white shirt apparently, is possibly the best player to pull on the three lions’. But that’s a whole new article.
I find it incredibly weird to applaud Harry Kane when I spend 11 months of the year laughing at his gormless expression, although there’s thankfully/depressingly not that much to applaud so far.
And I struggle to bemoan Alli’s poor form, since it apparently only extends to England games (and of course the 2015/16 run-in mwahahahaha).
As for Eric Dier, it feels terribly two faced to cheer the same two footed leg breaking challenges which I decry during the domestic season. Yes, he got the ball, yes he got the man with his trailing leg.
Danny Rose’s epic dives and subsequent somersaults through the air? Kyle Walker’s lack of any kind of brain, let alone the footballing one Theo Walcott is so often accused of lacking?
And I haven’t even got on to those players from other rival clubs who it’s a struggle to get behind, not least our very own England captain whose petulance is too often forgiven as long as he’s wearing angelic white. Or indeed, the man we are consistently linked with but who I hope to high heaven we never ever sign, in the shape of Jamie Vardy.
Fundamentally, the fact that these players earn their crust playing for teams we dislike and playing in ways we abhor is part of what brings us together as Arsenal fans, but it’s also what tears us apart when the national team convene.
In qualification games and friendlies we can pretend it doesn’t matter, but when push comes to shove in major competitions, we still want success. And that feels dirty.
Most of the best teams in this year’s competition pick their players from a handful of clubs in their own country. Spain’s team has a heavy Barcelona and Real Madrid influence, Germany’s is dominated by Bayern Munich or soon-to-be Bayern Munich players, Italy as always have a significant contingent from Juventus.
How fitting then, that perennial failures England are most represented by perennial failing club Tottenham.
And when the inevitable capitulation comes, it will be just one more dismal failure to lay at their door.
I’ve finally worked out my answer to my opening question too.
I’d like Arsenal to win the World Cup.