In the past I have often remarked that crowds at England matches were made up entirely of either racists or plastic fans. Thankfully, along with the overwhelming majority of fans at Wembley on Tuesday night, I fitted squarely in the latter category.
Even for competitive fixtures such as this Euro 2016 qualifier, there is no denying that the atmosphere and collective feeling around the ground is one of showpiece football; a glamorous event of honorary attendance in the same pantheon as a Harlem Globetrotters tour.
Come, one and all, see the stars of television and the posters adorning your childhood bedroom wall ‘in the flesh’: Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart... Jonjo Shelvey! Catch a glimpse (preferably through the lens of an iphone) before they return to sporting Hollywoodland.
As soon as England’s captain notched his record breaking goal tally from the penalty spot, wide-eyed and chino-clad spectators ascended the stairways towards the exits, their faces glued to mobile screens as the game concluded behind them. In their wake lay cardboard containers once filled with burgers and hotdogs valued at the same price as a year’s education for a Zambian child.
Welcome to England, and its sparkling citadel of wealth and ambition, a Minas Tirith of misguided migration. London.
As visiting Swiss and English feet marched their way across Wembley Way before kick-off, an American preacher, dangerously armed with a megaphone, reprimanded us foolish footy enthusiast for our ignorance of spiritual affairs. “Your sports stars cannot save you,” he called into the infidel masses, “only the King of Kings can rescue you from damnation”. ‘DO YOU KNOW GOD?’ screamed his strewn leaflets.
If anyone had actually been paying attention to this sadly deluded miscreant, they might have been forgive for assuming he was talking about Rooney. All media discussion before the match was on the Liverpool lad’s imminent surpassing of Bobby Charlton as England’s highest goalscorer.
Never having been a particularly popular player among supporters at a domestic level - even at his beloved Old Trafford home he has reluctantly tolerated recent detractors – for the national side he carries all dependant hope of success. Scandals have come and gone, yet even with a history of disappointment on the biggest stage, he endures as the highest rated of our soccer population.
As the game unfolded, the media showed no signs of changing their top billing. Not a single press photographer positioned themselves behind where the Swiss were attacking. Each scope was trained on the number nine’s every move, waiting for the inevitable moment of glory to arrive.
Although Harry Kane’s breaking of the deadlock was warmly welcomed, it remained nothing but a subplot compared to the clamour of excitement sparked by the skipper’s late chance from twelve yards.
Despite the lessons of contemporary history, England now appear a formidable team, at least against moderate opposition. Aside from some wasted chances to open the scoresheet by Josip Drmic, the visitors offered little resistance. The three lions played precise, pressing and patient tactics that ultimately paid off with an eighth consecutive victory.
The squad’s detractors, nevertheless, will continue to be displeased by an unspectacular performance without ‘entertainment’ across the full ninety minutes.