With an estimated 400,000 Britons living in Spain, it’s odds on that at some point most Spanish football fans will come across the England football team, as it lumbers its way onto an inglorious quarter final exit at Euro 2012.
While England may have invented football – and still play a vaguely recognisable variant thereof – the sight of England hoofing the ball up the pitch then defending for 88 minutes may come as a shock to Spanish football fans reared on elegant passing play and finesse.
With that in mind, the Trans-Iberian blog presents a soothing guide to watching the England football team, for any football-loving Spaniard that may walk into an Irish bar or flick the remote control just as the three lions of England are hitting their unwieldy stride.
1) Don’t expect finesse
To be fair to the England team, it hasn’t done so badly so far at the Euros, topping its group courtesy of two wins and a draw and earning a quarter final berth against Italy. In addition, Danny Welbeck’s match-winning goal against Sweden was probably one of the goals of the tournament so far, a deftly-executed back heel under defensive pressure.
But this should be considered the exception, rather than the rule. Generally, these achievements have come courtesy of some solid defensive work and hitting teams on the break. It’s not always pretty but as Chelsea demonstrated in the Champions League this year, it is a combination that can be effective when combined with a hefty dose of luck.
2) Do expect drinking – and lots of it
England’s tendency to let teams attack and soak up the pressure means that supporting England can be a pretty stressful business. Drinking, of course, is neither big nor clever. But, frankly, after 20 minutes of watching England hold on for dear life in their own penalty area, you’ll feel like you need a drink. And not just a caña either. This is one very good reason why the English love to drink pints.
3) Tactical talk is out
The pint versus the caña is not the only difference between English and Spanish football fans: in Spain supporters often debate tactics, dissecting their team’s performance with infinite finesse. English supporters, however, favour shouting, singing, swearing and anything in between. Tactical talk that goes on any longer than a protracted howl of “Shooooot!” is generally considered unsporting. Besides, it gets in the way of the shouting.
4) Get ready for The Great Escape
And talking of supporters, yes that is a brass band playing in the stand as England defend frantically. And yes, they are playing The Great Escape (whose title probably tells you all you need to know about England’s tournament aspirations). This is the imaginatively named England Supporters Band, a group who have played in support of the England football team since 1996. They claim to have 151 songs in their repertoire but anyone who claims they have heard them playing anything other than The Great Escape is a liar.
5) Lower your expectations
In previous tournaments, it was not out of the ordinary to hear England fans predicting their team would win. However, England’s disastrous performance in the last World Cup has dampened expectations to the level that this time no one expects any better than England’s perpetual quarter final exit. Perversely, this has meant watching England this time around has become a lot more pleasurable, with much of the horrible, grinding hope replaced by chirpy pessimism. If you do decide to watch any England games, then don’t make the mistake of suggesting to an England fan that 2012 could be the team’s year. Such dangerous talk invites hope and as we all know it is the hope that will kill you in the end.
6) Play it cool
Equally, it’s probably best not to start pointing out the England team’s faults to any watching native supporters. We know England are defensive. We know we can’t keep the ball. And we know that no English footballer would make the Spanish team. We just don’t like to be reminded of it too often.
7) But don’t forget, you are very welcome
England’s long and belligerent history means that the country has a great deal of rivals and this tends to spill over into football. Germany, Argentina, Scotland, Portugal and France are all considered grudge matches for England, which tends to result in a thumping English loss. Spain, however, are not one of England’s rivals. In fact, we tend to rather like Spain and Spanish football. This was helped no end by England’s recent one-nil win over Spain in an entirely pointless friendly match. So don’t be scared, as a Spaniard, of going to watch England. England’s awful problems with hooliganism seem to be firmly in retreat and you may even find some love beneath the towering beer bellies and sunburned shoulders.