Grant Woodward: England's flops have it all '“ except an ounce of backbone

Our footballers lack the guts, courage and sheer bloody-mindedness to grind out a win when things are going against them, or even go down fighting.

Thursday, 30th June 2016, 5:00 am
A young England fan sobs after seeing England beaten by Iceland at Euro 2016. Credit: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire.

THAT’S IT. I’m done. Finito. Kaput.

I’ve given the best years of my life to the England football team and that’s how they repay me.

I’ve had my fill of the flickers of hope in friendlies where we beat France and nick a late winner against the Germans.

The biennial bigging up of another crop of so-called superstars in the making who we’re told are going to put a smile on the nation’s faces.

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Because once we get to a major tournament it all collapses quicker than Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.

Suddenly we look like boys against men. The pampered Premier League A-listers cowed by blokes scratching a living in second-tier football in the outer reaches of Scandinavia.

Before Monday’s game, the talk was that it would be like playing a team from the Championship.

And it was. For Iceland.

By the end, the likes of Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane couldn’t so much as trap a ball or stick a cross in the same postcode as their team mates.

I had to laugh earlier in the tournament when it was explained that Kane was taking corners because no one else could.

Sorry, but taking a corner involves kicking a stationary football. If the members of the national team are unable to perform a basic skill they should have mastered by the age of 12 then there really is no hope at all.

I’m not one of those who thinks they don’t care about England. That embarrassment at the hands of a nation the size of Leicester doesn’t hurt them.

But where are the guts, the courage and sheer bloody-mindedness to grind out a win when things are going against you?

England’s players on Monday night looked scared of their own shadows. That woeful lack of movement was because most of them were frozen to the spot. Not least Joe Hart for the second goal.

Every one of them seemed to need three fretful touches of the ball before they would risk passing it to someone else. And even then it was mostly backwards. And to the opposition.

Their sluggishness and lack of any intent gave Iceland all the time in the world to get back behind the ball. In previous games the Icelanders have looked dead on their feet by the final whistle. Against us, they barely broke sweat.

It’s clear that England teams can’t cope with the pressure and level of expectation – even if that had dramatically lowered during Roy Hodgson’s stint in charge.

But how come the Germans, Spanish, Italians and French manage it? Why is it they generally produce the goods on the biggest stage or at least go down fighting?

And how damning is it that the only one prepared to take matters into his own hands and at least try to take the game to the might of Iceland was a 19-year-old kid who only got four minutes on the pitch?

Michael Parkinson once asked the Australian all-rounder Keith Miller about pressire in cricket.Miller, a pilot in the Second World War, replied: “Pressure? Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse.”

Eddie Jones, the Australian coach who has transformed England’s rugby union team, started his reign by telling flanker James Haskell he hoped he had long fingernails. “Why?” “Because you’re only just clinging on.”

When scrum-half Ben Youngs came in he had a bag of sweets lobbed at him. “You’re too fat and not sharp enough,” Jones told him.

The players have duly responded by winning every game they’ve played this year – including an historic treble over the Aussies in their own backyard.

If an England football coach challenged our latest crop of flops like that they’d go running off in tears to tell their agent.

A manager can only do so much. What the England team need right now is to locate the backbone they lost somewhere along this godforsaken line of 50 years of dismal failure.

Until they do, I for one won’t be watching.

Labour’s woes are self-inflicted

AT pretty much any other time, the present upheaval within the Tory ranks would look like complete chaos.

Luckily for them, the unholy mess in which the Labour party finds itself makes their problems seem positively trivial.

This week’s motion of no confidence in leader Jeremy Corbyn was passed by a margin of 172 votes to 40 in the wake of a flurry of resignations from his senior team.

With 80 per cent of his MPs telling him to sling his hook, Mr Corbyn’s position would appear to be untenable.

But he’s refusing to go, claiming he still has the backing of those members outside the parliamentary party.

Never mind thick skin, the bloke must have the hide of a rhinocerous. In a way, you have to admire him for it.

And let’s face it, these rebel MPs only have themselves to blame.

It was they who paved the way for this impasse by granting Mr Corbyn the nominations he needed to run for the leadership, not thinking for one minute he might actually win it.

In fact, you can trace the roots of this nightmare back to the decision to pick the wrong brother in the leadership election of 2010.

Bridlington-born Angela Eagle is being mooted as a potential successor, but there are other talented Yorkshire MPs who offer an alternative to the party’s present London-centric outlook.

It’s time a few of them raised their heads above the parapet.

In awe of Horace and his brave Pals

I’M currently working on a book telling the story of Leeds through the first 125 years of the Yorkshire Evening Post. One of the chapters has involved delving into the archives to see how the paper covered the First World War – and the stories of heroism are truly humbling.

Among them is that of Horace Iles, from Woodhouse, who joined up in 1914 after being handed a white feather – a mark of cowardice – on a city tram.

At the time he was just 14. Two years later he found himself in France, ready to burst out of the trenches on the first morning of the bloodbath that was the Battle of the Somme.

His sister Florrie wrote a letter begging him to reveal his real age and come home, but he was already dead.

It was a nice touch from First to name a bus in his honour yesterday. Tomorrow, 100 years since Horace and hundreds of other Leeds lads died doing their bit for this country, we should remember the sacrifice they made.