England Need To Be More "Streetwise"? They Don't Know The Meaning

We berate our politicians for being out of touch with the real world, why should we expect anything different from our footballers?
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We berate our politicians for being out of touch with the real world, why should we expect anything different from our footballers?

I was disappointed in Wayne Rooney, and his affirmation that England needed to be more "streetwise" in the game against Uruguay. Not because of the fact that he was essentially saying that England didn't cheat enough and didn't pressurise the referee into making decisions, as he has suggested other teams do, but because I was secretly hoping he meant something else.

Anyway, to suggest that these players had no idea that this sort of thing goes on, stretches credulity. After all, the majority of this group of players play for club teams where it has become accepted practice to do exactly that, and has been for some years now. Indeed, in the microscopic Petri dish of analysis that is the English Premier League, every word of players and managers is dissected and scrutinised. Managers who play "mind games" with referees in the hope of influencing their actions are generally lauded for the attention to detail and general "nous" they show. Sports journalists positively salivate as they pore over Sir Alex or Josė and their targeting of referees before and after games. It has also become a tacitly accepted fact that the more successful teams do indeed, get more favourable treatment at the expense of the minnows. Streetwise indeed.

All this is seen as part of the game by many football fans I know, a great percentage of whom would be happy if their club was owned by Al Quaida if it meant certain Champions League qualification. So, to suggest that the England squad who, almost to a man were plucked from Primary school, given contracts that saw their parents' faces beaming with a mixture of pride and avarice; who then ate, slept and drank football and it's associated industries of nutrition, physical conditioning, psychological profiling and celebrity status, were a bit wet behind the ears in professional football culture, is a bit like an A level student saying " oh, I didn't realise you had to write your name at the top of the exam paper", and wondering why they failed.

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No, I was secretly hoping that Wayne actually meant that the England team should have had some comprehension of what it might be like to actually be on the streets to acquire the necessary wisdom to do their jobs. That he was pining for the days when footballers learned how to play, not on purpose- built pitches, with dimensions exactly mirroring those of Wembley, but in the street, with goals roughly painted on the grimy brick walls of tenement buildings. When Mr Charlton, returning from his shift down a mine in Ashington, County Durham, would walk briskly past his boys kicking lumps out of each other on some waste ground, reminding them that they'd better be home soon, or there'd be no tea. Days when, as I used to as a young Villa fan travelling to away games, read the pen pictures of players in the programmes that told me "Ray Graydon, a speedy winger who learned his trade as an electrician before turning professional".

We berate our politicians, in particular, for having no comprehension of the outside world, having skipped seamlessly from the tuck shop at Eton, through Oxbridge and into a safe parliamentary seat, pausing briefly to do a bit of political research. Yet, we seem happy to indulge the even more remote and cosseted world of top level professional football and all it contains.

What Wayne has inadvertently revealed is that, not only were England not good enough skilfully or tactically, but they had also not gleaned anything from their collective upbringing in the most "streetwise" footballing environment of all: the cynical, multi-billion pound circus that is the English Premier League. Unfortunate for them that they did put their names on the exam paper, so we know exactly who failed.

Word on the street (of Oxfordshire at least) yesterday was that all the England World Cup merchandise was now "50% off". When ticket prices at Premier League games are reduced by as much, I might be tempted to go back to the game I followed religiously for years.