Graham Dougan was a youth prospect at Arsenal in the 1970s but never quite made the grade, making his career in the upper echelons of the old division two. He was also a Scottish U25 international. He is a regular pundit on TV in Malta and Luxembourg, and an after-dinner speaker of some repute.
He’ll write a column exclusively for the site and we hope you’ll enjoy his keen and unique insight into the game. This week he looks at the World Cup and England’s journey to the semi-finals.
Some people might think that because I’m a former Scottish U25 international, I would root against England at the World Cup. Nothing could be further from the truth – it’s the Irish I can’t stand, but thankfully they didn’t qualify and ruin the tournament with their good-natured fans singing songs about not surrendering to the IRA.
England, however, were a joy to behold throughout the tournament, under the youthful management of Garth Southgate. What a breath of fresh hair he’s been. Not like previous tournaments with the likes of Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Campello, there’s been an underlying Englishness to England which is something that England need in order to be as English as they can possibly be.
You don’t see other nations going in with managers from foreign countries. Imagine the outcry in France if their football federation announced that John Gregory was going to take charge? Sure, he’s a high quality manager but they’d be burning their panno chocolat on the streets of Perpignan simply because he wasn’t one of them.
Southgate knew that in order to succeed he had to bring back the good old fashioned qualities that made England such a force in the past. Nobody epitomised that more than Harry Maguire – even his name is as English as you can get. Good old Harry Maguire, you could imagine him as a pub landlord tracing the history of the Maguire clan from Devon all the way up north to Cornwall and holding court as he pulled pints of bitter for his regulars.
He could have been a farmer, a man who works in fields, a crop grower, a cattle minder, a tiller, or any one of the trades that a real man can have under his belt. His mighty meaty forehead was a true weapon on the pitch, loafing the ball towards goal at every opportunity, and England’s prowess at set-pieces was truly something to behold. It reminded us that for all the bravado from America about the greatness of Route 66, the greatest route of them all is 1.
As for the supporting cast, who could ignore the fleet-footed mastery of Jordan Hemperson, knocking diagonal balls into touch to press the opposition back into their own half so as to make inroads into their territory? The sly, devilish ways of Dele Alli who would make himself anonymous so as for the opposition to forget all about him? And the confidence of Harry Kane who believes in his goalscoring ability so much that he can confidently ignore a man outside him who would have had a tap-in to send England to the final?
It is those things which make you realise that England don’t even need the final to win the World Cup. They have united a nation like the United Nations never could despite all their years of trying – we still have wars, what are these people up to?! Back in old Brighty, the pubs and parks were full of people throwing beer on each other, a sign of a caring, sharing, mature society that doesn’t feel the need to binge drink its own beer selfishly (like the Irish).
“It’s coming home!”, they sang, echoing the words of that famous song from Jeremy Beadle and Frank Skinner, and each step along the way it was closer and closer to its final destination. Then, sadly, they were beaten by a country which didn’t even exist when I was playing. A new international franchise called Croatia, a cynical move that FIFA should have stamped down on but no doubt Step Blatter was given a brown envelope full of gold bullion to allow it to happen.
Losing in those circumstances is no shame and England rightly celebrated because outside of Croatia and France, who actually cares who wins the final? They’ll be forgotten soon enough, but nobody will forget the melodic England trumpet band, great Englishmen like Gary Lineker, Ian Wright and Roy Keane backing the lads all the way, and the emotion of coming so near yet so far. In some ways it’s better not to win it because once you do win it, the only way is down.
So, regardless of what happens in the final in Leningrad on Sunday, England are the real winners of this World Cup. They might not get the Jules Rimmer trophy, but they deserve a reacharound of applause from every football fan the world over.