DO YOU WANT THE ENGLISH TEAMS TO DO WELL IN THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, OR NOT?
What about it? What about when you're sat at home on a Tuesday night with a packet of those chilli and lemon lentil crisps and the big boys are playing. The big boys are playing, but none of them are a team you support. Who are you supporting?
Being English is a strange thing at the moment. Everything will be ok, possibly, but the real question is: Do you support English teams in the Champions League? Or do you really not care? Here's one that does and one that doesn't.
MIKE BACKLER DOES CARE
I want all English teams to win in Europe. But it isn't even down to their Englishness. I don't really care about Englishness. (Well, not really. Not in that way.) If they lose I'm not gonna crash out of the pub and pop a big sausage in the exhaust of an Opel Zafira on my way home.
If they’ve been undone by a Ronaldo hat-trick, a virtuoso Leo, or a Batistuta pile-driver: then more for me. But, really, I'd just prefer it if the boys from Blighty triumph.
Because while I'm here—on this bastard Isle—the next round will be more fun. The pubs are full, the WhatsApp group hums. Relentlessly. It hums relentlessly. And, the whole experience of watching football is heightened. You’ve picked your team. You're invested in it.
Otherwise you're just watching. You’re a watcher. A voyeur. Outside in and that. Creeping on the Continent because, in so many ways, it's better than here.
I grew up with European Cup competition in the early 90s. If the English team went out, the next round wasn’t on telly. If it was, it wasn't on ours. The liberos, the wing backs, the diamond formations. All those players I loved. For me to get to Hagi and Romario and Mattheus, they had to win. God, how I wanted them to win.
It’s never been about blind nationalism. It's about having another chance to see the lads I loved from MOTD twice more against the boys from the World Cup. I can't build or justify an evening around Porto v Ajax in the quarter-finals. I wasn't allowed to then, and I'm not now.
I don't support a top-six team. I have no expectations of glory. I just enjoy the game for what it is. It’s all about the spectacle, the occasion, and the pints. The deeper English teams go, the better those all are. This time, they're four likeable teams, with four very likeable managers. And if one goes on to win, well it’ll be a great night.
I’ll never forget my mate “going for a walk” and re-entering the pub 15 minutes into that second half in 2005. His face. Honestly: his face. Or as a teenager, my mum jumping off the sofa and hugging me when
Solskjær scored in the Nou Camp. Her face. In an ideal world she’d have done that when Lars Ricken scored from 40 yards in the final a couple years before; it was a better goal. But she didn’t, and she wouldn’t, and she doesn’t give a shit about that goal.
English teams doing well in Europe opens it up for everyone here, and here’s just where I am.
SAM DISS DOESN'T CARE
As a West Ham fan, I have no skin in the game here; no horse in the race when it comes to Europe. The sum total of our recent European adventures have been a shellacking in Palermo, a pair of energy-sapping losses to the fifth best team in Romania, and fleeting, mocking success in the dearly-departed Intertoto. And yet the thought of supporting English teams in Europe, purely by dint of their Englishness, enjoying it by-proxy, has never crossed my mind. Never.
And it has nothing to do with bitterness or spite, and has everything to do with I. Me. I... simply... do... not... care. I want to see the best team win, no matter who they are, where they're from, what they sing. I support the game of football, my friend; national loyalty can be damned.
And sometimes that means accidentally wanting English teams to do well because it supports the narrative I most enjoy – my penchant for “this is stupid, I can’t believe they’ve managed to wriggle out of this one” comebacks meant watching Man United toss aside PSG was one of the best games I’ve watched in ages. But the idea of supporting a team purely because they’re English? And for no other reason? No, you’re alright, mate. Not for me.
And I’ve got nothing against those who do. Not really. Each person must find what makes them happy in their lives. Follow your bliss, as curling plastered posters say on Etsy. They do say things like that. Live and laugh. All those things.
But there was a curious sense of pride in seeing four English teams in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. It was coo. But that’s more a sorta satisfying coincidence than something I would’ve ever actually hoped for. A bit like seeing the word ‘car’ formed by chance in a plate of Heinz Alphabetti spaghetti.
I’ll look at it and go ‘Huh, what do you know?’ Anyone who sits there and hopes their spaghetti spells out the word ‘car’ is the weird one, not me.
That was strange, in a way, but it's also Friday. For now. It's ok to be strange. Issue 17 of MUNDIAL Magazine is out now, and you can order that to your door here. If you'd like every issue across the year placed in your lap, click here.