“I don’t care who goes on to win it now,” said the man at the bar as a line of crestfallen England fans shuffled out of the door behind him. “Well,” he sniffed. “As long as it’s not f**king Spain.”
“Too right,” said his friend. “Boring bastards. How many times do you need to pass the f**king ball anyway?”
I wish I had carried on listening to that conversation. Who knows what fresh madness could have followed that? A dismissal of the works of Charles Dickens on the basis that, “there were too many f**king words,” or a vicious review of Citizen Kane. “Not enough f**king car chases.”
It wasn’t just those two either. On Saturday night, Twitter filled up with complaints that the Spanish were ‘boring’ everyone. Boring? Boring?! Now, I realise that different people look for different things in their football, and I suppose that my priorities have changed since I took this job and was asked politely to watch all the games sober. But when did controlled, sustained pressure become ‘boring’? If Spain were a boxer, prowling in circles around their opponent, jabbing him, working him, waiting for the moment to strike, there wouldn’t be a problem.
When did our attention span shrink? This is football. It’s not a Michael Bay movie. We don’t need explosions every five minutes to keep us watching. International football is an extended technical, tactical and physical battle. Or in England’s case, an extended tactical and physical battle.
I’m not trying to convince anyone that Spain’s comfortable victory over France was a classic, and I certainly don’t want to get on the wrong side of an ideological debate with Danny Baker on Twitter. That would never do. Baker, a broadcasting genius whose love for football dramatically pre-dates the early 90s media love-in, believes that anyone who calls a boring game ‘fascinating’ is, and I paraphrase, a turd-polishing poseur. That’s a fair point. Sometimes football matches are irredeemably rubbish. But for others to blame Spain for the paucity of entertainment, and worse still to hate them for it, is crazy.
The reason that the game was dull was that the French picked two right-backs and dropped deeper than James Earl Jones’ singing voice. The reason that France lost was that three or four of their players adopted a, “someone else will sort it out,” attitude to marking. Spain simply lurked on the edge of the French third, tik-ing and taka-ing, wondering if their opponents were going to come out and play.
Realising that the French had no intention of doing anything other than shrugging and having the occasional hissy fit, they bided their time and then struck, finishing the job with the patience and ruthlessness of a contract killer. It’s curious that so many England fans, content to watch their own team huddle in four-man trenches, were offended by what was essentially a similarly-minded, but better dressed pragmatism. Spain’s objective isn’t to thrill, it’s to win. Which is as it should be.
Some of the criticism might simply be an understandable response to the increasingly obsequious hyperbole that has surrounded Spain of late. This is certainly the case on Twitter, where opinions change so quickly that only the arch-contrarians can ever hope to gain a foothold. But the nay-sayers and the cynics are missing a trick. We’re living in a golden age, watching one of the most successful international football teams ever. This is no time to whine that it’s too pretty.