The latest unpleasant surprise connected to the England national team shouldn't really come as a surprise at all. With the Three Lions, anything is possible, provided it's embarrassing. At least Sam Allardyce made his mark, a hard thing to do in just over two months. A man no one really wanted in the first place bows out with a 100% record, that scratchy unconvincing 1-0 against Slovakia his only high before last week's rather ignominious low. Now we can go hunting for the next sap, hopefully one who won't get caught allegedly grubbing around for additional riches before the ink on his multi-million pound contract has dried.
If that sounds cynical, it's because cynicism is the default setting for England supporters, decades of failure having washed away hope things might change. The only variation is whether the failure comes courtesy of on-field or off-field catastrophes. The options are broad. It could be defeat at the hands of Iceland, incompetence overseen by a man holding a brolly, financial misdeeds or an arrogant idiot insulting the disabled. Despair at the state of the national team is not the only problem facing beleaguered fans across the country though. Following football, certainly at the highest level, is a constant test, an ordeal that shouldn't exist for something supposed to be fun.
The rot goes right to the top, exacerbated by the sheer ineptitude of the governing body. When it comes to mismanagement FIFA could give even the most reckless dictator a run for their money. If anything they're the shining example to be copied by all wannabe tyrants, maintaining a stranglehold on the world game despite seeming to spend most of the time lining their own pockets. Last week we were treated to a ludicrous declaration announcing the end of the anti-racism taskforce. Apparently the job is done. I assume world peace will be next on the agenda. Then they can make another film about themselves.
FIFA, gold standard bunglers though they are, cannot take all the credit for dragging football through the mud. Hot on the heels of Allardyce's little indiscretion, further allegations have emerged concerning managers current and ex involved in financial misdeeds. Elsewhere we have footballers facing bans for homophobic tweets and violent behaviour, and in the not too distant past, spitting, biting and even an ex-England captain who received his own ban for racism, that tough topic FIFA has at least nipped in the bud at last.
Then there's the money, the game flush with figures so obscene it barely seems believable anymore. Kids across the country get lavished with riches and wash out early, unable to cope with vast sums bursting from the mattress. Transfer fees appear to have departed company with reality a long time ago, wages too, and TV deals sound made up. It's not that footballers are unique in receiving too much money; plenty of professions do. In a purely commercial world, if you're into that whole rampant capitalism thing, it's fair. But football, sport in general, is not purely a business, nor is it purely a recreational pastime these days. It's something in-between, creating a tension that grows stronger with every million piled on top.
The impact it has on us watching is hardly pleasant either. As an Arsenal fan I find myself pushed and pulled in all manner of strange directions. Paying tens of millions for a guy to run around a pitch kicking a ball (or maybe catching it) seems ridiculous, yet anger rises in me the longer my team stays out of the transfer market each summer. Suddenly I'm desperate to have money that could put a thousand kids through school spent on a player I only know of because he once injured my captain on Football Manager.
We end up complicit in the madness, disgusted by £100k-plus weekly salaries and furious when our team refuses to meet demands, losing the player. I don't want to see £50 million blown on a couple of footballers, and yet Arsenal's last minute signings flooded me with relief. I don't want players to get off lightly for racist abuse, or career ending tackles they later brag about in a book to raise more money. I don't want to love something that seems to hurt so many, from the migrant workers building stadiums in Qatar to the poor people caught up in the violence at the European Championships. I don't want my national manager to last a mere 67 days because he's too greedy to say no to the prospect of cash on the side and too dumb to keep it hidden. Football, underneath all these many ominous clouds is a beautiful thing. I just wish this game wouldn't work so hard to test my affection.