Fifty Years of Hurt: The Story of England and Why We Never Stop Believing (2016) by Henry Winter looks at why the English national football team have underperformed by talking to a number of ex-footballers and coaches about why England have a worse record than Spain, Italy, France or Germany.
Why England don’t perform as expected is a bit of a mystery. People often point to the longer English season with no winter break and England’s failures on penalties in repeated tournaments. Also tactical and technical issues are assessed. The combination appears to be fairly devastating.
Winter talks to Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Ian Wright and so many other people in the book that it does make for a pretty fascinating book for anyone familiar with English football. However, it is a bit long and does get repetitive.
It should be pointed out by the book, but isn’t that England’s record until Spain and France won World Cups and Euros was actually in the middle of the pack of large European countries and until 2010 had a better record than Spain. Indeed, if England could take penalties at World Cups they could well have two wins. England has the worst record of penalties in World Cups, having played three and lost three. It’s worth noting, however, that France’s record is 50/50 and Italy have played 4 and lost 3.
It should also be said that international football is really hard. Really only Germany and Brazil, the largest country in Western Europe and the largest country in South America that have really strong records. Only Italy and Uruguay have records that transcend their size. And even with Germany and Italy it’s worth noting that Italy hasn’t won the Euros in almost 50 years and Germany hasn’t in 20.
There is also some hope at the end of the book as the more recent success of the England youth team are discussed. There is also some hope in terms of fixing things that are not working. Germany lost a penalty shootout in 1976 and then got organised and have not lost one since.
For anyone interested in football and anyone who is interested in England it’s well worth a read. A bit more context and comparison with other countries and an acknowledgement that football is really hard to do well in might have helped, but the interviews and discussion are genuinely interesting.