Can Roy Hodgson’s England erase 46 years of hurt?

We’re doing it again, aren’t we? Building our hopes up. Having those ‘what if?’ conversations in living rooms, workplaces and pubs.

What if we can get past the group stage? What if Andy Carroll comes good? What if Roy Hodgson’s appointment is actually a stroke of genius? What if Rooney doesn’t get sent off?

Despite years of crushing disappointment and the failure of the ‘Golden Generation’ to shine, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and roll out the Three Lions song from Euro ’96.

It’s no longer 30 years of hurt. Or even 40. It’s, er… 46 years since the England football team actually won anything.

Since then we’ve had odd flashes of brilliance, the occasional dalliance with a semi-final and plenty of penalty shoot-out misery. But, for my entire life, it’s been soul-crushing, gut-wrenching, toe-curling disappointment and endless frustration. It’s been a montage of tears, tantrums, bizarre dismissals and the obligatory elimination courtesy of Teutonic spot kick efficiency.

OK. So we may not have had the most technically-gifted footballers in the world.

But we humble England fans would just like someone to explain to us why talented individuals who play out of their skins for their clubs in what is billed as the best league in the world become useless donkeys when they pull on an England shirt. Why does a lion of Istanbul become a lamb in Bloemfontein? Why does the top of the bill at the Theatre of Dreams suddenly get stage fright?

Is it because there’s no money at stake? Is it because their club contracts are so much more important? Is it because our many and varied managers have been deficient?

Or are we just, well, rubbish? Do we delude ourselves that we have ‘world class’ players when, in actual fact, they can’t do it on the biggest stages?

If we are being honest, it’s probably all of the above which explains the love/hate relationship England fans have with their team. Combine that with some pretty tepid or downright dire performances and we could be forgiven for chucking our St. George foam hats and red novelty wigs in the bin with our dog-eared copies of Hoddle and Waddle’s Diamond Lights.

In spite of all this, we can’t help ourselves but be reinvigorated with renewed optimism every time a major tournament comes around. It’s tribal, so I’ve been told.

We simply can’t prevent the hope of the glory.

We all have our favourite moments but some bond us together in the way that only sport can.

Moments such as captain marvel Bryan Robson scoring the fastest-ever World Cup goal against France at Spain in ’82.

Or never-booked Gary Lineker scoring a hat-trick against Poland at the ’86 World Cup in Mexico.

We get all choked up remembering Gazza’s tears at Italia ’90 and eulogise about THAT goal he scored against Scotland at Euro ’96.

We talk about Shearer and Sheringham dismantling Holland on that memorable night when we put four past the pass masters.

We recall David Platt’s sublime volley to end Belgium’s World Cup challenge.

We remember lion-hearted Stuart Pearce having the bottle to take a spot kick against Spain after messing up in a previous tournament shoot-out.

We savour shaven-headed Becks’ astonishing free kick against Greece and his fearless penalty against the Argies which exorcised the demons of his youthful indiscretion against Diego Simeone.
We enjoy replays of the 5 – 1 demolition of Germany in Munich when even Emile Heskey managed to score.

You see, England may have won nowt in the last four decades but we now have a rich history of glorious failure.

It is a heritage which marks us out as the nearly men of European and world football.

Roy Hodgson may be as dull as a dissertation on the Yellow Pages but that’s maybe no bad thing as, for once, expectation levels have not gone beyond the borders of reality.

Not just yet, anyway…

For now, at least, he’s our Roy and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is this year’s Theo Walcott.

As always, hope springs eternal in the birthplace of the beautiful game.

It’s back to two banks of four, men behind the ball and a big bloke up front.

All is well with the world.

Come on Engerland…

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This goes beyond tribal loyalties. Come and be Vale with us tonight

In years to come people will remember where they were and what they did in the coming days and weeks.
An old friend of mine is in trouble, you see. Deep trouble.
One of Stoke-on-Trent’s grandest institutions is on its knees and the prognosis is bleak.
The situation is so desperate and so unfair that it has caused many of us months and months of sleepless nights.
Emotions are running high. None of us can rest easy until we know for sure that our friend is going to pull through.
But I am keeping the faith. We all are.
As a result, something momentous is happening: Something at once inspirational and humbling which makes me extremely proud of my home city.
Port Vale Football Club is being resuscitated.
The community club with a 136-year history that has had its name dragged through the mud and been left for dead, is slowly but surely being revived.
Not by outside investors, your understand. There isn’t an oligarch or a sheikh to be seen around Boslem.
No, this rebirth is being driven by the people of the Potteries who are demonstrating that the city council is right to bail the club out by underwriting the costs of the administration process.
They are the same people who dipped into their pockets less than a decade ago when Port Vale went into administration the first time around.
They are the same people who chucked coins in buckets or used their hard-earned savings to buy shares. Often both.
They are the same people who bought bricks for the plinth on which a statue of Port Vale’s greatest player will one day sit.
They are the perennially disappointed and downtrodden – the let down and the misled.
But they are steadfastly loyal and they care so much about the financial basket case that is Port Vale that I defy anyone to ever write the club off.
They’re making donations, planning fund-raisers and working their socks off.
What’s more, this time around the ordinary fans – the lifeblood of the club – are not alone.
What has happened at Vale Park in recent months has touched a chord with many people, some of whom never even attend football matches.
Even die-heard Stoke City supporters living the Premier League dream and dining out on European adventures are shaking their heads at the catastrophe that has befallen their poor cousins down the A500.
This goes beyond tribal loyalties. You don’t have to be a Port Vale fan to realise that some things are just plain wrong. Like telling supporters £8 million is being invested into their football club when it isn’t.
Like issuing shares that haven’t been paid for to people who then use them to vote themselves on to the club’s board of directors.
Like remortgaging Vale Park from under the noses of its fans and the club’s shareholders – thus breaching the terms of its loan agreement with the city council.
The list of misdemeanours goes on and on – so much so that, if I wrote them all down and submitted the story on spec to ITV as an idea for a drama based around a struggling northern League Two football club, the producers would undoubtedly reject my pitch on the grounds that it was too far-fetched.
As a result of months of poor stewardship and a complete disregard for the club’s fanbase by the board of directors, Port Vale is on the brink of extinction.
Ordinary, hard-working employees at Port Vale have been left in limbo – not knowing where their next pay packet is coming from.
Manager Micky Adams was only able to take four substitutes to Saturday’s game because there was no money to cover the fifth player’s travel expenses from Sheffield.
I kid you not.
The players, who are unbeaten in six matches, are performing for free. Respect is due.
This is why tonight I’m hoping we’re going to have the largest home attendance at Vale Park this season.
In its hour of need, I’m hoping lapsed Vale fans and those who have deliberately boycotted the club will return and be joined by a few of their mates who normally make all the noise down at the Brit.
I’ll be there in the Bycars End rattling a collection bucket.
I’ll be accompanied by a Manchester United season ticket holder and a lapsed Vale who hasn’t been regularly since He Of The Flat Cap was in charge.
More used to the Theatre Of Dreams, my Man Utd fan mate was at Sunday’s emotional Supporters’ Club meeting at Baddeley Green Workingmen’s Club and was swept up in the emotion of the occasion.
Tonight, he’ll be in the presence of the ghosts of Aveyard and Sproson, Rudge and Earle, Foyle and Ainsworth at a ground echoing with memories of FA Cup giant-killings and glorious, heart-stopping promotion campaigns.
Tonight he’ll be Vale and he’ll be very welcome. Please join him.