The late Carwyn James was the greatest rugby coach of his time. In 1971 he led the British Lions on tour to New Zealand, when they became the only Lions team ever to win a series against the mighty All Blacks (as the New Zealanders are known from their uniform). He also gave a phrase to the language. Expecting brutal play from the All Blacks, James told his players beforehand to “Get your retaliation in first.”
For an England soccer fan, the great thing is to get your disappointment in first. That’s been true as long as I can remember, but never so true as this year. England holds the record for having played in more European championships, seven in all until this year, than any other country, without having ever won the title. Even so, there has never been an international tournament when English expectations were so low.
Few of us gave them much chance even before a plague of injuries removed several players and the turmoil over their manager arose. Fabio Capello resigned only weeks before these Euros, Harry Redknapp wasn’t appointed in his place as most people expected or wanted, and the choice fell instead on Roy Hodgson, a throughly competent defensive coach of mid-ranking teams.
So there were no great surprises in the drawn opening match. England didn’t play too badly but they didn’t any too well, against a pretty ordinary French side. One might call it a 2-0 triumph for Manchester City, with both goals scored by players from the club, except that Joleon Lescott scored his for England and Samir Nasri scored his for France. If asked beforehand to name the best English player of the moment I would have said Joe Hart, by some way the best goalkeeper England have had for some time. But on a good day he might have saved that Nasri goal, even if he wasn’t much helped by a leaky back four.
Still, England kept up a faultless record. In all seven European championships they have played in before, they have never once won their opening match. The great tradition continues!