It's (not) coming home

Wes, Laffs, Olsson and Brady, more teams, pubs: Richard Jeffery says there are plenty of reasons to look forward to Euro 2016, despite his uneasy relationship with the England team at major tournaments

Bruno Alves just out of shot

Bruno Alves just out of shot

Euro 2016 is about to take place in France. C’est le 15ieme édition of the tournament, fact fans. So lire on and écouter what I’m going to dire. Oui?

On y va!

I simply love international tournaments: you get to watch some of the best players and teams on the planet. Even though they’re all much more familiar now than they were back in the day, I’m still taken back to when I was a kid with the wall charts, sticker albums and souvenir pull-outs from the paper. Hmm, isn’t it? Marvellous.

Tournaments also provide many good excuses to go to the pub, and who doesn’t love an end-of-tournament montage? Plus, us metrosexuals can re-bond with the metrosexual’s metrosexual, Yogi Löw.

It’s also interesting that this time 24 teams have qualified for the finals. Prior to now, it has been 16 since 1996. Between 1980 and when football came home there were only eight teams in the finals, which incredibly itself was an increase on the original four teams in the finals which was the case from its inception in 1960.

This excites me because it means more football. It also means some of the not-so-familiar nations get a chance in a big tournament. This may dilute the quality and provide meaningless games early on, but it may not, and there may be a few shocks along the way.

It also means that not only will we be able to cheer on the Nodge contingent for Oirland and Sweden, who have recently been fairly regular qualifiers for international tournaments, but also for Norn Iron this time. Laffs at an international tournament? In your face George Best. Wales will also be there, so there’s plenty of UK interest. We’re all representing Britain, and we're gaunnae do or die, Scotland cannae dae it, 'cos they didnae qualify! In spite of the bar being lowered. Shame...

England relationship status: it’s complicated. I mean, I want them to win. But since the first international tournament I can remember properly, Spain ’82, I’ve got used to overwhelmingly disappointing performances from them. Notable exceptions were 1990 (Gazza/World In Motion), 1996 (Gazza/Football’s Coming Home) and 1998 (Wee Micky Owen and the last tournament in France), but even those ended in bitter disappointment. Over time this takes it out of you.

In those days, and up until fairly recently, England at a tournament was accompanied by xenophobic, they don’t like it up ’em, hear the lions roar, caged tigers, second world war rhetoric. ‘We’re gonna win it!’ the red tops would cry. *Spoiler Alert* We never did, even with Golden Balls and the Golden Generation – who, as well as sounding like a glam-rock band, could more aptly be called Failure Balls and the Beaten Generation.

Add to that the hordes of utter disgraces who were pissed on strong lager and sunshine, throwing plastic chairs about in foreign squares singing ‘No Surrender’, and it was easy to become a little disillusioned.

The first time this struck me was when I really enjoyed USA ’94, from the moment Diana Ross missed her pelunty right up to when Baggio missed his. I soon realised this was mainly because England hadn’t qualified and I could just sit back and enjoy the football, falling back on my distant Irish heritage (though not as distant as some of their players) to support Jackie’s Boys in Green. No pressure, no stress. Just a football festival. It was great.

The England team has also been quite hard to like in the not-too-distant past, both in terms of their style of football and the lack of engaging and interesting personalities. They’ve not looked like they’re enjoying it, and that rubs off on the supporter, culminating in the club before country posturing that is so common now. We’re all club before country aren’t we? No need to bang on and on about it people.

So that brings us back to 2016. Thirty years of hurt has become 50 years of hurt, and Jules Rimet is looking in need of some Brasso. But I’m looking forward to watching the tournament despite England being in it. In fact I’m actually looking forward to watching England. We aren’t fancied, we have some decent and exciting young players and we look fresh-faced and interesting. The joy is back. There’s also a pleasing lack of the ‘we’re gonna win it’ bluster and hopefully our fans will continue to behave themselves.

There are better teams than us, but none we should feel we can’t get at. We’re unlikely to get further than the quarter-finals, so let’s go all out to thrill the watching public and become the team that lights up the competition.

Bring it on. I’m looking forward to it all and, in particular, everything England.

Apart from that fucking band.

You can follow Richard Jeffery on Twitter at @twitchut