As a Leeds United fan over the course of the past decade or so, you need to have developed a certain gallows sense of humour. The ability to have a laugh at yourself, or at least a reluctantly tolerant smile when the pain is just too intense, has seen many of us through many an agonising and humiliating moment. And this forms a mindset where, faced with some setback or disappointment unconnected with our beloved Whites, we might grimace cynically and say through gritted teeth “That were just like watching Leeds” – a wry inversion of the “just like watching Brazil” hymn of praise. When one of us says that something was “just like watching Leeds”, you can tell it’s not been an enjoyable experience.
So it came to pass that, as England‘s abject, shameful performance against Iceland unfolded, the Facebook statuses and the Tweets started, on my Whites-centric feed mostly with that common theme. That was just like watching Leeds. Wow, you thought. That bad, eh?
The thing is, though – it was actually so much worse than watching Leeds. Because our national side gave a performance of staggering ineptitude, incredible cluelessness. England were nervous and anxious at best, simply incompetent and bumbling the more the game went on. Rooney, supposedly reinvented as a deeper midfielder, spraying accurate passes about, could hardly hit a ten yard ball. His passes were off target, his services in from wide were over-hit (as were “quality delivery merchant” Harry Kane’s). It was, in short, a typical Rooney, typically English international finals performance.
For the rest, they nearly all seemed afflicted by the same nightmare conviction that, whatever they attempted, it simply wouldn’t come off. Only when Marcus Rashford came on, with the innocence and arrogance of his youth, did England look remotely like getting anywhere. The men in white lacked the belief, the character and the guts to seize the game by the scruff of the neck. In the context of nightmares again, it was as if they needed to get moving, but found themselves wading through a foot of treacle, their energy drained, their heads empty. The longer it went on, the worse it got. It was a shameful embarrassment of a performance. After their early penalty joy, England could have played from now until Christmas, and still might have failed to score.
Over forty-odd years, I’ve seen many abject performances from Leeds United. I’ve seen lack of effort punished, lack of pride and commitment bringing their inevitable dread reward. I’ve seen it all as far as bad times go, and – lest we forget – some good times too. But as far as the awful side of things is concerned – well, with hand on heart and with God as my witness, I’ve never, ever seen anything as bad from a Leeds team as I saw from that Three Lions shower last night. Just like watching Leeds? We should be so lucky.
People keep on coming out with the fact that Iceland has a population less than that of Leicester, but that – hur, hur – Leicester has been able to spring its own surprise lately. Very good. Apparently, it’s also true to say that Iceland has more volcanoes than professional footballers. On last night’s evidence, that could be true of England too. The bottom line is that such a performance – for want of a more appropriately descriptive word – goes way beyond unacceptable and plumbs greater depths than anything even the most unfortunate of us will have seen from our club sides, where work-rate and a bit of fight are the very least we demand and expect.
Just like watching Leeds? Not on this occasion. Leeds would have given that Iceland side a decent game. Leicester would almost certainly have beaten them. Perhaps, this coming season, when the performance levels of our lads in White dip below our meagre expectations, some terrace wit might start off a rendition of “England – it’s just like watching England…”
That, at least, would have the comparison the right way around.