On a cold damp November Wednesday night, England failed to qualify for a major tournament for the first time since 1994.
Before the crucial game at Wembley against a Bilic inspired Croatia, England lost talisman Michael Owen in a friendly the previous Friday. Already without the suspended Rooney and injured John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, manager Steve McClaren decided to drop Ashley Cole and goal keeper Paul Robinson. Even England’s player of the 2006 World Cup Owen Hargreaves only made the bench.
Over 88,000 turned up in hope. The team would consist of Scott Carson making his competitive debut and two other players in Micah Richards and Sol Campbell who would barely feature, not at all in Campbells case, for England.
A 4-1-4-1 formation seemed defensive against a Croatia team containing Modric and Kranjcar. Also, determined to make the Gerrard and Lampard axis work, Gareth Barry was deployed to anchor the midfield. Joe Cole and Wright-Phillips were picked to support Crouch.
Even this wasn’t to be McClaren’s biggest faux pas of the evening. Rain was falling onto Wembley and so he walked out with a cuppa in one hand and a brolly in the other. A headline was born.
2-0 down at half time and McClaren had to bite the bullet and bring on ex-captain David Beckham. Back in 2006 Sssshteve said he and England needed to move on from David, now he was being asked to rescue the three lions.
A Lampard pen and a Crouch header, assisted by Beckham, meant all England had to do was hold on and qualify for Austria and Switzerland.
Scott Carson, on loan at Aston Villa from Liverpool at the time, had already let slip Croatia’s first into the net. He came out for the second half and produced some good saves. Even a point blank one from a Olic header. On 77 minutes a 25 yards cross shot from Petric arrowed into the bottom corner. All hope seemed to evaporate.
England tried and tried but nothing came to fruition. And when the referee blew for full time Steve McCalren knew his time was up as England manager. Afterwards the press went for him. ‘The wally under the brolly’ was created.
Players accused of not caring and not reproducing club form. You could almost say nothing much has changed in the last 10 years.
What this night 2007 seemed to do was confirm something all England fans had refused to admit for a long time, we aren’t as good as we think. To this day I don’t really think we have recovered from this. For four years we stagnated under Capello and bored many under Uncle Roy. Crowds have dwindled and interest has waned to the point that I forget when games are on.
The ‘Golden Generation’ has now gone. Though it was a phrase that never sat comfortable with me. And yes, we have players like Harry Kane, John Stones, Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford coming through. But without the fans and without something entertaining to put in front of paying fans, we will never have a feeling of hope again.
One suggestion is to take the home games back around the country. St James’ Park, Old Trafford, Villa Park and as far south as the St Mary’s Stadium. But with Wembley still to be paid for I doubt this will happen.
More connection in a positive manner between players and fans need to be looked at. They seem all to robotic and hidden under Beats and hoodies. A Rashford should provide hope to all academy players that when an opportunity comes and you take it, you can go far. Even Harry Kane, who went out on loan countless times, is something to look at.
I miss looking forward to England games. We need less middle fingers and Wally’s under brolly’s, and to heaf back from Russia with love.
by Ross Jacobs - @riddley82