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Since Setanta Sports wanted to extort $20 out of me to watch England blunder along for another game under Steve bloody McClaren, I decided instead to watch it via Sopcast, which for those that don’t know is something of the Napster (circa 1999) of internet television. That is, it provides content for free when it shouldn’t. It does this by offering somewhat suspect streams of tv stations from places like China.
So I settled down to watch on my laptop England-Russia, with Chinese commentary, the game starting late as they seemed obsessed with showing as many Yao Ming commercials as possible. Now, I watch quite a lot of games with Spanish commentary on TV here, since they often have the rights to various games not available with English-language announcers. And given the dismal quality of the latter in any case, there’s not much of a loss. I usually can’t stand the drivel of most commentators, and the Mexican ones at least impart passion. If they’re talking as much nonsense as Tommy Smyth or Ian Wright as well, I’m none the wiser to it.
Today was different, though. With the crowd against England, the fuzzy picture, and the Chinese commentators showing so little interest in their intonation that they could have been watching a snooker match for all I could tell, it was hard to get into the game. It was 11am in the morning, and whilst I’m not philosophically against drinking at that hour should the occasion call for it, I was at home and had to teach a class shortly afterwards. And since I knew McClaren’s team would likely force me to have more than just a casual beer, I thought it best not to get started.
When England scored, I was quite pleased. When the referee gave a very suspect penalty, I was annoyed. When England decided to run around like chickens with their heads chopped off (we almost remember you fondly now, Graham Taylor) for the last twenty minutes, I began to feel increasingly distressed at the not unexpected but still disconcerting events unfolding on the computer screen.
England lost 2-1, their qualification chances slipping out of their hands. It’s a good job my cats know enough about my moods to get well out of the way at such times. Last year, after England’s penalty shoot-out defeat in the World Cup, I was ready to throw my television out of my fifth floor window, until I realised this was impracticable, as it weighs more than I do.
And as always at these times, I wondered, why do I even care? I live thousands of miles from England, and I’m watching it in a completely disconnected manner with Chinese commentators, who seemed determined (as best as I could tell) to blithely ignore the consequences of the game and continue to speak in a funeralesque monotone — which I suppose was not entirely inappropriate, come to think of it.
Even if England do squeak into Euro 2008 and make a run of it, I wouldn’t experience that wonderful cultural joy of being amonst fifty million people flying stupid car flags and suddenly all blathering on about football as if they’ve cared all along. Moreover, I’m not even a very patriotic person: I’m not particularly proud of much of our history, nor our present politics, though I am fond of many parts of my heritage. And in particular, I have nothing but contempt for the F.A., Steve McClaren, and most of the England team. When Frank Lampard showed up ready to come on and rescue England from the substitutes bench, I almost retched.
Yet I suppose that if I can still feel disgust, frustration and antipathy towards the whole thing despite watching it on a dodgy Chinese internet stream, then I can’t deny I remain an England fan, and there’s not much I can do about it except to accept my fate.