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A lonely pint

25 June 2018 | Lloyd Hughes

Aaron blogged about this last week, but French Connection UK it, I’m doing it too. You can read his apology, and reasoning for doing so here.

We tweeted from the Pic PR account prior to the first England World Cup game about how the office was flat as a pancake and expectation was at rock bottom.

Given England’s performance at the 2016 European Championship this is no real surprise.

As a child, I was a fervent England supporter and looked forward to international tournaments with boundless excitement and enthusiasm. And it wasn’t just me. Practically the whole country seemed to be at a standstill when England were playing, with plastic car flags and the cross of St George seen on every street.

The so-called Golden Generation of Scholes, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Ferdinand and more had a weight of expectation on them – given the wealth of talent this was somewhat understandable.

The media stoked the fires of expectation, with every tabloid talking up England’s chances and ramping the nation up to a fever pitch…before inevitable failure and a storm of criticism and acrimony in its wake.

The pressure was too much for a team fractured along club allegiance lines. England were hopeless.

This cycle of disappointment seemed to be on repeat every two years.

Having experienced so much disappointment over the years, I met this tournament with complete indifference. I thought I was indifferent ahead of the 2016 Euros, but then felt a flutter of excitement as soon as the tournament arrived. The defeat to Iceland though, poured cold water over that and this time it was genuine indifference.

Not a flicker of excitement.

In the two years since the Euros, I’ve barely watched an England friendly, much to the surprise of my wife given the fact I generally watch as much sport as I can get away with, while the laughable appointment and then sacking of Sam Allardyce only added to the farce surrounding the national team.

The fact that he was replaced with a manager most prominent in my mind for missing a penalty for England and wearing a paper bag on his head for Pizza Hut, seemed like the cherry on top of a steaming pile of excrement.

My expectations for this tournament then were, it’s fair to say, low – even if I did plan on going a stretch further than my approach to friendlies and actually watch the games.

Imagine my shock then, when we played well.

The first 20 minutes against Tunisia were excellent before England’s opponents effectively shut up shop and stifled our play. Tactics which would frustrate any team…yet we still clinched the win. The ‘sign of champions’ and all that jazz.

Sundays game against Panama was a madness.

Belgium with their array of talent only scored three past them. We scored six.

SIX.

England scored six goals in a single World Cup game. I never expected to see the day.

Yes, people say ‘It’s only Panama’ and it was their first ever World Cup finals appearance. However, Belgium (Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku et al) scored three; we scored six.

And Panama got there. They did what was needed to qualify for the tournament, beating the US to the spot (a team I doubt we’d beat 6-1), and well deserve their time in the spotlight – even if their approach is a little more hands on than we’d like.

I’m not on the ‘it’s coming home’ bandwagon by any stretch. But these performances have at least got me back on board with the England football team and international football in general. It’s just a shame I’m based in Scotland, where they are most definitely not on board the ‘it’s coming home’ bandwagon.

If it gets to the 15th of July though and we’re still in it, I’m not promising I won’t paint the flag of St George on my chest and march down the Royal Mile with a can of Carling in one hand and a red flare fizzing in the other...

Anyway, with that over, back to PR.

An image that did the whole ‘viral’ thing during the game was that of Sam Allardyce, seemingly sat alone, eating a Big Mac in a comparatively empty pub watching the match on television.

Despite not being a fan of Big Sam as he’s ‘affectionately’ known…I did feel sorry for him. It looked like quite the fall from grace. Did no one want to be associated with him during an England performance? Surely he had some friends he could call upon? Turns out, he did.

Billy Hill.

It was actually all part of a marketing event organised by the bookmaker William Hill, during which someone had taken a short video and uploaded it making it look like Allardyce was on his lonesome.

The tweet, predictably, went everywhere at first impressions…which was then when it subsequently emerged he was at an event hosted by William Hill and not alone at all, with snooker world champion Mark Williams also in attendance.

Whether William Hill was hoping for quite that level of associated publicity, I’m unsure. It wasn’t a stunt as such, as not obviously setup by them, but it could’ve been carefully orchestrated – in which case William Hill will be delighted that its event has been so widely talked about, thanks to a post that elicited mockery and sympathy in equal measure.

Learning it was part of a bookmaker’s marketing stunt though doesn’t surprise me in the slightest.

Big Sam, it seems, will do anything to earn a quick buck.