many more years of hurt

Tragedy, Comedy, Steve McClaren: England Crash Out of Euro 2016

In the most perfect, farcical circumstances of all, England have bombed out of Euro 2016. It was tragic, but also inevitable, and somehow Steve McClaren’s fault.

by Will Magee
28 June 2016, 11:45am

EPA Images/Peter Powell

In classical tragedy, the concepts of hubris and nemesis are crucial. Hubris, the arrogance of man, is punished by nemesis, the crushing counterweight of universal justice.

You know who was, like, really good at writing tragedies? Shakespeare, the greatest writer in the English language. You know who else is, like, really good at writing tragedies? The England football team, whose penchant for being massively, absurdly disappointing at major tournaments is pure poetry, and a perfect art.

If nothing else, England's exit at the hands of Iceland on Monday night deserves praise for being beautifully tragic. They deserved to lose on every level, and not just because of their dire showing on the pitch. The performance was appalling, of course, with the team looking completely inadequate in almost every department. Raheem Sterling was awful. Harry Kane was abject. Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney appeared to have the basic fitness of a couple of middle-aged binmen who suffer from chronic lung impairment, and subsist exclusively on a diet of fried eggs, hash browns and exceedingly viscous black pudding.

While their efforts were practically egregious, Joe Hart's contribution pretty much epitomised the evening. His chest-thumping, come-on-lads-they-don't-even-want-it show of pre-match machismo was followed by a cringeworthy concession to Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, and a 1/10 shitshow of a game overall. When his unbearably self-satisfied Head & Shoulders advert came on at half-time – sandwiched between highlights of his floppy-palmed attempt to keep out Sigthórsson's weak daisy cutter – it felt monumentally appropriate. Hart is now acclaimed more for his lack of dandruff than his goalkeeping ability, and better known for his shampoo endorsements than the strength of his wrists.

That said, the players can't take all the blame. The entire nation invoked the might of nemesis, tempting fate in the most brazen fashion. We called down the rage of the cosmos with our arrogance, and were punished accordingly. The universe simply will not tolerate fiftysomething dads wearing Brexit shirts, and nor will it tolerate an entire repertoire of songs inspired by the triumphalism of sacking off the EU.

Never in the history of football – and perhaps mankind – has someone tempted fate this badly. These lads are directly, openly calling on England to be booted out of Europe, and yet they have almost certainly spent the last 12 hours crying down the phone to their girlfriends and moaning the words "Harry... Kane... on... corners" through heaving, phlegm-heavy sobs. Whatever one's opinion on the recent EU referendum, we can all agree that these lads are directly responsible for England's misery. They called on the gods to kick us out of Europe, and the gods swiftly granted their wish.

Likewise, as ever, we can agree that England's failure is partly the fault of Steve McClaren. While he wasn't trashing the national team's chances directly from the dugout this time, he managed to do so from the Sky Sports studio instead. The timing here could not be more perfect, more exquisite. In the split second after Sigthorsson scores, look at McClaren's face. That is the face of a man coming to terms with being a hundred Vines, a thousand gifs and a million memes. That is the face of a man who has condemned himself to the status of a neverending YouTube blooper reel, and who is about to have the piss taken out of him forevermore.

Via Twitter

We, the nation, are understandably angry about this, and yet somehow our anger feels equally hubristic. Take Danny Baker's epic Twitter rant, for instance. Danny Baker's fury is just, well, a bit much. Don't get us wrong, this is a great rant. This is what happens when your team loses a football match, your mates are laughing about it and you think: "No, that wasn't funny. There was nothing funny about that. I literally cannot see the funny side of this situation. Fuck off, alright, just FUCK OFF."

Still, are we really justified in getting this angry? In our heart of hearts, shouldn't we have known that England were shite? The group stage ended in two draws against an extremely poor Russia side and an underwhelming Slovakia, as well as a narrow win over underdogs Wales. The signs were there, and we failed to heed them. We allowed ourselves to dream of quarter-final respectability, and now we are left screaming "FUCK YOU, YOU CRAVEN, OVERPAID WORM-SHAGGERS" towards the sky.

Finally, some blame must be reserved for Roy Hodgson. He will be remembered as the greatest manager of all time when it comes to qualifiers, and one of the most disappointing when it comes to the games that people actually care about. It is hard to articulate the plodding boredom of watching England during his tenure as manager, the sheer lack of invention on offer over the last four years. He had unshakeable confidence that England would prevail through drudgery alone, and that is a form of presumption in itself.

That's why England bombed at the Euros, then. The players were conceited, arrogant and complacent, and the rest of us followed suit. In these dark and difficult times for the country, nothing could be more apt than such an exit. We depart from the Euros humbled by our hubris, and so tragic a denouement feels wonderfully apt.


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