The Dilettante's Guide to the World Cup: England

‘Ello, dilettantes! Welcome to Ye Olde Worlde Cuppe Guide: England Edition. If you’ve come this far—unless, of course, this is the first one you’re reading—you have learned a lot of superficial knowledge about world football, its customs and its players, and I’m almost ready to release  you into the footballing public. Unfortunately, I’ll have to make this one brief because my day job is looming, and I want to get finished, but by this point you’re already doing your own research, right? You know David Beckham. He’s the captain, right? No. Okay, we better take a step back.

In 1072, William of Normandy, aka William the Conqueror, stormed the British Isle, starting the “modern” British dynasty that has since given us Henry VIII, Richard III, (interlude with Oli Cromwell, the Lord Protector), the Magna Carta, the attempted rescission of the Magna Carta, Braveheart, Gandhi, the Boston Tea Party, the Revolutionary War (these colors don't run, the start of our 200-year winning streak), the King’s Speech (5*--seriously, watch it), Kate Middleton and Harry Potter (JK’s royalty to me).

The thing you think about England—that they’re an historical footballing power—is not exactly true. Yes, they did win a World Cup in 1966 (Texas Western also won a national championship over Kentucky that year, and they haven’t exactly lit the world on fire since). What you don’t know, what the rest of us do know, is that they didn’t qualify for two straight World Cups in the seventies, and failed again in 1994 when it was played here on our Grass of Freedom. Now, I don’t really blame them for being a little skittish about coming back to compete over here, but the point is this: world football powers don’t miss World Cups like that. The misconception that England is a footballing power comes from the Premier League (pronounced PREH-meer—and never say EPL or BPL), undoubtedly the best in the world, but the best players in it are seldom (but sometimes) British. From Gareth Bale (Welsh) to RVP (Dutch) to Luis Suarez (Uruguayan), since the inception of the Premier League in 1992 (yeah, 1992), English clubs have typically had deeper pockets, creating a more competitive league from top to bottom.

With that said, England’s recent World Cup disappointments have led to a slight change in their international philosophy. They’ve said goodbye to some of their old, slow guys in favor of some young, slightly less slow guys. Let’s meet some.

PLAYERS TO KNOW

Steven Gerrard

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The captain of my Liverpool side is also the captain of this English side. He is one of the best passers in the world, and this is almost certainly his last World Cup, so expect to see him on TV a lot, especially here in the States where he’s really popular (and rumored to be playing soon). I would love nothing more than to watch him leave international football on a high note, and even though I don’t think it’ll happen, he will have a lot of help from some of the younger guys, two of whom he plays with on a weekly basis at Anfield, where they do this before every game:

THIS IS ANFIELD.

Joe Hart

Joe Hart speaking Parseltongue during PK

Joe Hart speaking Parseltongue during PK

Slytherins, amirite? This guy is the most overrated goalkeeper in the world. I say that because he sucks, yet he starts in goal for both England and Manchester City, who have won two of the last three Premier League championships. He’s awful handling the ball, he’s terrible at PKs, and he sucks at general goalkeeping. So, when you’re at the bar with the American Outlaws, use the Slytherin joke I made or feel free to amend it by saying something like, “Stick to Quidditch, Malfoy!” or “Someone’s put a Confundus charm on Malfoy!” Stick to those two, though, because when you go off-book you sound like a damn Hufflepuff.

Wayne Rooney

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According to the movie Cobb, Ty Cobb said about Babe Ruth: “He could run for a fat man.” Or something like that. I don’t know, it was the ‘90s, man. Well, Rooney can’t run. He’s got passable ball skills, but he is lethal if the ball is on or near his foot at any point past midfield. He’s the most famous English football player in the world, which is why, you, the dilettante, already knows who he is, but now you know just enough about him to impress the hipster next to you.

Other Players to Know

Raheem Sterling (he’s important enough to be featured, but at 19 I’m confident I’ll get to him in the 2018 TDGTTWC. Plus, he’s a Liverpool Red, which, as you know, means he’s my boy), Jordan Henderson, Leighton Baines and Frank Lampard.

Before I leave to finalize my analytics on the USMNT Bald Eagles of Victory and Justice, let me clear up two things about England that will inevitably come up with the broletariat.

First, the flag you’ll see next to their name, this one, is not some kind of special soccer flag, and it’s not an ESPN error. It’s called St. George’s Cross, and it’s the flag of England. It makes up the cross of the Union Jack, which is the official flag of the United Kingdom. In soccer (as well as in a few other sports) England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland, the four countries which comprise the UK, compete as the individual sovereignties they are. As individual sovereignties, they each have their own flag, and St. George’s Cross is England’s. Now, let me put a bow on this. You know how you and your bros, when you're about to make another sales pitch, first quote Boiler Room, then Wolf of Wall Street, then, to keep it cultured, say "Into the breach, man"? Yeah, that's from Shakespeare's Henvy V and it's "Unto the breach" but that famous St. Crispin's Day speech (which you know from the Danny DeVito movie) ends with: 

The game's afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry 'God for Harry, England and Saint George!' 

Second, the Three Lions you see in my headline picture and on the front of England’s shirts are simply the logo of the FA, England’s governing football body. They’ve been used as England’s patch since their first international match against Scotland in 1872, and the history behind why they’re lions and why there are three of them is kind of cool and can be found here.

Tomorrow the World Cup starts in earnest when the USMNT seeks and finds revenge against the last remaining superpower, the cocky, rich Ghanaians, who have knocked us out of the last two World Cups. Be sure to check out my definitive guide to American soccer around midday, at which point I’ll fulfill my promise to define offside and at which point you’ll be ready talk footie with the best of them. And. Not. Look. Like. A. Moron. 

To bone up on your world soccer, check out American Soccer Quarterly