Love, Loss and Lions: An England Fan Trying To Be Optimistic Ahead Of Euro 2016
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It's a hard life for an England fan. As the England National Team gear up for another go at a European Championship, most fans can't help but remember the heartbreak and tears of past attempts.
England have a poor record at the Euros. They were knocked out in the semi-finals by Germany in 1996 on home soil after penalties, failed to get out of the group in 2000, were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Portugal in 2004 (again by penalties), didn't even qualify for the 2008 Euros, and finally, they were knocked out (yes, again by penalties) by Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
This year, if you listen to the hype, is supposed to be different. England have the most exciting squad they've had in years. In Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, England have two on-fire strikers alongside record-goalscorer Wayne Rooney. Behind them is a youthful team full of bright prospects, such as Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford. It's probably the most naturally talented team that England has fielded since 2004, when a teenage Wayne Rooney grabbed the attention of the world.
You can't help but think though, that we've heard all this before.
Wayne Rooney's rise in 2004 convinced most of the world that England could go all the way, but when he was forced off against Portugal with a broken foot, England crashed out on penalties, a scenario that would repeat itself two years later in the 2006 World Cup.
In the 2010 World Cup, A near perfect qualifying campaign got everyone's hopes up again, only to see England perform miserably. Draws against Algeria and the USA combined with a 4-1 thrashing by archrivals Germany in the round of 16 made for a miserable experience for the English.
The 2012 Euros saw England top their group, only to see their old foe, a penalty shootout, rear its ugly head again against Italy. Andrea Pirlo's cool panenka only served to rub more salt in the wound.
At the 2014 World Cup, everybody was talking about the healthy mix of experience and youth that Roy Hodgson had put together. England crashed out at the group stage after playing only two games.
England have always had a nasty habit of failing at major tournaments. There have been young, exciting teams before for the Three Lions, and they have all met the same fate. The 1996 team that featured Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham looked like they would go all the way. France 1998 featured a young star in Michael Owen. 2004 saw Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, two of the best defenders of their generation, alongside such star names as Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and of course, Wayne Rooney.
So, with Euro 2016 coming up fast, it's hard to see how this England team looks better than any of the "golden generations" that have gone before. It may sound cynical to say, but that is the reality of being an England fan. The pain of supporting the Lions is defined by all the nearly moments. It's not because we lose, it's how we lose.
All the penalty shootouts, all the promising teams that failed to go all the way, they take their toll. The idea that world-class players like Scholes, Gerrard, Gascoigne, Pearce, Adams, Seaman, Shearer, Owen, Fowler, Ferdinand, Beckham and many others have never lifted a trophy with England, makes it hard to imagine this team doing it.
It's not that they're not talented, it's just that better teams have come and gone without succeeding. Having said all that, in typical English fashion, we still hope.
It's a kind of optimistic pessimism. Gallows humor some may call it. We recognize the folly of putting our hopes and dreams in the England team, yet we do it anyways. One, because it is our country, and two, because we do truly believe that this year could be the year. You need look no further for a better example of this than the "Three Lions" song from Euro 1996.
And you know what? This year really could be our year. Germany is in a state of transition, as is Spain. Belgium have yet to really fulfil the potential expected of their own "golden generation," while Italy is a far cry from the victorious teams of yesteryear. France are really the only team that look solid, and even their squad has significant holes in it.
Add to that the fact that Euro 2016's expanded format means that the top third-placed teams go through, and England could be set for a long run, so long as they miss some of the giants in the early stages. And of course, so long as they avoid penalties.
Being an England fan is a particularly painful experience, but the pain comes from genuine hope. Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, so they say. If there is a more relevant phrase for supporting the Three Lions, I still haven't heard it.
Follow me on Twitter @J_Hansen_89