The man to define my near quarter century as an England fan.
We’ve been here plenty of times before. Get them on the plane. Andy Carroll, Peter Crouch, David Nugent, Darius Vassell. They’ll offer something different. Bring them on with the half hour to go. “This’ll baffle ‘em lads – Emile, get warmed up!”.
It’s caused some huge debate over the years with Three Lion’s fanatics down the local boozer – who should fill that fourth striker position for the Summer of Hope. “FRANNY JEFFERS” was probably the worst shout – although he does have a 100% goals to game ratio in the England White.
Disappointment is something we’re all used to as England fans post ’66. However, I’ll always remember the first time I was well & truly disappointed. It was the summer of Darius. Five foot Seven Darius & half of the Midlands behind him.
France 98 (belter) & Japan/Korea 02 (also belter) were my earliest encounters of International football. (No idea where I was for the Millennium Euros – but that France team was glorious). Both disappointing as per the usual England protocol but for ’98 I was four & literally couldn’t comprehend anything I was seeing beyond Marcel Desailly’s absolute chill in those Predators & the glorious FujiFilm advertising boards. As for 2002 I was busy getting away with an R9 trademark semi-circle fringe at school & not actually being a) sent home & b) embarrassed. To be honest you could not be disheartened after losing to that Brazil squad. Don’t worry David, I wouldn’t have saved that either.
So up to press, I had been fairly content with England’s showings on the international stage.
The Euro’s. The Golden Generation. A perfect chance to prove we can obliterate Europe & take on those pesky South American’s in Germany in a couple of years. Untypically optimistic as I had not faced the heartbreak of my senior England supporters. Also, in-form Villa Marksman Darius has made the exclusive strikers club! Wayne, Emile & Michael with open arms – “big up Vass, welcome to the goal show”.
I’ve had many debates with the same Man Blue fan for years about Darius. I’m not sold. He is. He loves him. He shows me the same grainy footage on YouTube every time we have this drunken debate of Vassell illegally obstructing the ball between his feet before doing a backwards roll away from confused Fulham defenders. Granted, if I had seen Robbie Fowler do that I would be in awe. But not Darius.
We get through the group stages relatively easily. Plus, we treated the neutrals to a fucking glorious first fixture against France. Not so glorious for Beckham & co (Becks now sporting a classic number 1 that Ross Kemp would give a reassuring nod to – even in the most hostile of gang territories) as we went down cruelly to a Zidane fest in the closing of the game – but nonetheless a cracking tie. That’s the thing with our lot. We put a show on for other countries. Such a selfless nation we are. A golden generation of players, unselfishly choosing to notturn up to big tournaments. Give Spain & Italy a chance – those lads are having a dry spell.
What happened next was about to set me up for every single international fixture I would ever watch in my England Whites. Cue Barry who works down the Red Lion ranting in the pisser:
Portugal. Fucking Portugal. Sandwiched between Portugal victories in 2000 & 2006. Our very own Bolton to Arsene Wenger. Bottom 3 sides to Liverpool. Legitimate goals to Pele. A thorn in our side.
For starters, Sol Campbell (who 100% had his fair share of emotional disappointment during his career) climbed well above everybody to legally head the ball into the well tight, fucking mega green/black netting *note – the nets were pleasing, but how beautiful was that ball* only for it to be cruelly disallowed. Still not over that.
That was disappointment number one. Still not onto Darius.
Then obviously Portugal took a 2 – 1 lead with 10 minutes of extra time to play – albeit that goal from Cult hero Rui Costa was some effort. A quick turnaround though. England gets our hopes up again – we will not be beaten! Frankie Lampard swivels in the box from a peak John Terry knockdown to get us right back into the game. Surely there will be no more upset. We’ve even put Darius on for the pennos because he’s ice cold from 12 yards. Our wildcard. Our saviour. The Midlands Marksman.
Wrong. Penalties. Beckham. Well over. Blames spot. Back to reality. But again our hopes are raised as the shootout levels itself. One pen each before sudden death. Ricardo’s gone rogue. Gloveless. No man’s land for Darius’ soon to be a goal-bound penalty. Oh, Darius. Saved. Could happen to anybody. Still, you’re my scapegoat for this tournament exit. Ricardo then remains gloveless to smash the winning penalty beyond a helpless Jammo.
Darius was plan B. England’s fourth striker. The one we all secretly hope turns up & unpredictably lights up the tournament. In reality, this is never going to happen. But this tournament & Darius Vassell ultimately showed me the “England fan ropes” in which we look for a reason we can achieve before realising when it all goes horribly wrong that this reason was actually a load of bollocks – See Harry Kane, England’s new corner taker/Steve McClaren, we WILL qualify.
Now it was far from Darius’ fault we left the Euros. But he will forever in my mind be the reason England are shit. He is the reason we only put three past Andorra. He is the reason I now approach every single England game with the same “I told you so” attitude when we inevitably cock up.
Still. We’re gonna’ win the World Cup. It’s coming home.