And so the inquest begins. Or, to be more precise, the inquest resumes. This year, the World Cup inquest was underway long before a ball was kicked in anger. Expectations had hit rock bottom. Greg Dyke’s throat-slitting gesture at the World Cup draw perfectly embodied the national mood of pessimism. We all knew England would flop. In fact, it’s fair to say that England is a country in a perpetual state of inquest into the recurrent woes of its national football team.
The wife heard the word ‘inquest’ on the radio and she assumed that there was an actual inquest headed up by an actual coroner. Given that all kinds of quasi-judicial inquiries have become a feature of British public life, perhaps a formal inquest isn’t a bad idea. Appoint a law lord, summon witnesses and bring the perpetrators to justice.
If we can hunt down and convict geriatric Nazis, why not indict 84-year-old Charles Hughes, the former FA director of coaching? Hughes’ notorious technical manual, which advocated direct, percentage football, is now widely regarded as English football’s Mein Kampf. Wing Commander Charles Reep, the theoretical guru of the long-ball game, is another man who should be in the dock. Reep died in 2002, but why should that mere detail prevent a posthumous trial? And what about all the foot soldiers, the men who were ‘only obeying orders’? They were complicit in the Reepian atrocities.
Maybe the police should conduct an Operation Yewtree-style witch-hunt, rounding up all the ‘usual suspects’ for crimes against football: the headteachers who sold off our school playing-fields, the youth-team coaches who made little kids play hoofball on full-size pitches, and the competitive dads whose touchline hectoring took the joy out of football for our youngsters. They should all be retrospectively prosecuted and banged up just like all those disgraced 1970s TV celebrities.
Joking aside (and yes, I was joking, in case your irony detector was on the blink), we should brace ourselves for another bout of national self-flagellation. We’ll be subjected to those shrill trademark Chris Waddle rants about how the English never learn from our failures. No one will be spared in the orgy of finger-pointing and recrimination. Roy Hodgson, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, the FA, foreign imports, the Premier League, obscene wages, WAGs, unpatriotic players, childhood obesity, Margaret Thatcher… you name it and someone will find a scapegoat to fit their worldview. Harry Redknapp claims that many of his former charges at Spurs didn’t want to play for their country. Ian Wright simply could not comprehend why any Englishman would snub an international call-up. ‘The next young player who says he does not want to play for England should be ordered to ring the parents of a soldier who has died serving his country in Afghanistan and tell them his reasons’, ranted Wrighty in his Sun column.