So, England are off to the World Cup in Russia after yet another dismal qualifying campaign. How can a team make winning such an absolutely awful experience? There should be a verb for it - to depress people by being successful. Perhaps they could use 'trumping'.
But this time people, please, can we not get carried away? We know it's going to be boring, tedious, underwhelming, and it will still end in tears - probably of anger. It's in Russia, about as glamorous as Silksworth on a wet Sunday and on top of that, we don't really want to shine a spotlight on a country who've never really explained their voting patterns from the last Eurovision Song Contest.
So can we just let the whole circus just sort of jog along in the background without it taking over the country? No little flags on cars, no bobble-head Harry Kane, newspaper pull-outs, sticker albums, endless merchandising, documentaries or whatever?
In fact, we want the media to play it down completely if possible, as successive England managers have complained in the past that the press have put to much pressure on the players. So, as my contribution to the World Cup effort, with the aim of diverting attention away from team matters, I think that Gareth Southgate should do the following:
- Hire Boris Johnson as public spokesman for the team (he'll be out of work soon anyway) and refer all press conferences, enquiries, statements and interviews to him alone.
- Insist that the team 'take the knee' for every foreign anthem played in matches, and if we get out of the group stage, include our own national anthem in there as well.
- Every time a goal is scored by the team, have the goal scorer remove his shirt in celebration, revealing a vest underneath on which is printed 'I drown kittens for pleasure' in English, Russian, and the language of the team we're playing.
- If any player is called to give an interview during the competition, have them read only a prepared script praising President Putin for the annexation of the Crimea and congratulating him on his liberal administration of the country and his far-reaching efforts at achieving world peace.
Well, at least that should stop the media, and the country, moaning about the football.
Gareth Southgate however, is already trying to manage expectations:
England doesn't have any big players.
Clearly an effort to curtail the soaring ego of Harry Kane who probably felt that he was entitled to a ticker tape parade down The Mall, his image on a stamp and the keys to the nice toilets at Paddington Station for scoring a penalty against Lithuania. Or maybe not.
By coincidence, Gordon Strachan, who got off lightly and just doesn't know it yet, was bemoaning the lack of big players too - blaming a lack of height amongst the Scottish people for problems with the football team. Really? Scottish Rugby doesn't seem to have a problem.
What I do know is that we're genetically behind.
I don't think that that's just a height problem mate.
In the last campaign we were the second smallest squad behind Spain.
And look how they suffered!
What Gareth wants are creative players, to break down stubborn defences, find that "killer pass" and he thinks he's found one in - Jack Wilshere. Jack could be the "midfield creative genius" to unlock stubborn defences in a way that he didn't do for Bournemouth all last season, or for Arsenal. Ever.
In fact it can only be a matter of time before Jonjo Shelvey's name comes into the frame as the next great white hope of British midfield football - the only upside of which is if we took him to Russia with the team, he'd probably defect.
So, can we just back off from the World Cup and pretend it isn't happening, please? No more "England Expects" headlines - if we really do expect anything out of it then we truly are a nation of half-wits.
So - mascots, what's all that about then? Why is it that footballers can't take to the field these days without clutching a child or two? At least I assume they're still called mascots, they certainly were when there was only one or two of them. But then we got some questionable adults dressing up in big fluffy animal costumes poncing round the field before kick-off, and they're called mascots too, so maybe all the kids are called something else...
... like "income" for clubs like West Ham, who apparently charge up to £600 for the kids to walk out hanging onto a player. For £600 I'd want to choose the bloody player I was going to hang on to as well - none of your Andy Carroll nonsense here, no thank you.
But I think it's all got out of hand. I watched a Manchester City home game recently and the start looked like a musical number from 'The Sound of Music'. There were kids all over the place, all players had a kid but some were carrying a baby as well - what's all that about? Where's it going to end?
So does the away team have bring their own kids or does the home team supply them? In which case is it cheaper to be a mascot for the visiting team? And where do they all get changed? You can't mix boys and girls so that's presumably two extra dressing rooms and if you want to segregate home and away, that's four potentially. All sounds like it's getting out of hand to me.
And do they have substitutes? What if some kid kicks off in the tunnel because he wanted to walk out with Aguero and all he's got is John Stones? Do they have kids in reserve who can step up? There must be something because you can't have one side walking out a kid short.
Do the kids get charged more for the popular players? Can they do swaps in the tunnel? There must be some administrative background to the whole thing otherwise you could end up with a 3”2 kid paired with Marouane Fellaini and the kid's just going to dangle all the way to the line-up.
And once in the line-up there doesn't seem any consistency with the whole hand shaking thing. Sometimes the kids shake hands with the other players and the referee and the other officials, and sometimes they don't. Let's face it - it's a bit of a nonsense, if the whole side-show can be used to help disadvantaged kids in some way then fair enough, otherwise they should knock it on the head.
So, Wayne Rooney has got his community service detail - at a garden centre! Seriously? Must be pretty posh round his way, round mine they dress in orange and pick up litter by the side of the road. Is trimming the clematis deemed a suitable retribution for drink driving? And I bet he gets Saturday's off - one of their busiest days. It's rubbish if you ask me, the least they could do is give a red hat and stick-on beard and make him model garden gnomes.
Oh, and Oscar has had enough of China and is 'open' to a return to Chelsea. Fair enough, but they should make him do three months in a garden centre first.