There was a time when the prospect of an England versus Scotland game would make any right thinking Briton foul themselves with excitement. Typically they were the kind of matches you’d view in the same way you’d watch a season finale of ‘Game of Thrones’ – trying not to get too attached to anyone, just in case Graeme Souness grabs them by the face and mashes their skull like a boiled cauliflower.
Sadly, the next instalment in this ancient slapping-together of genitals is about as appealing as hoovering the crumbs from Donald Trump’s blistering foreskin.
Without wishing to point fingers at those responsible for how underwhelming this fixture has become, discreetly extending your pinky in the direction of Gareth Southgate might not be that unfair.
Gareth, of course, can hardly be held wholly responsible for the flabby, wheezing state of international football on these shores. Interest in the England team has been steadily deflating since the days when Sven would divide his time between muddling his way to tournament quarter-finals and asking girls if they wanted to have a go on his sex trapeze.
But Southgate is nevertheless a potent symbol of all that turns people off about international football. For an audience that suckles greedily at the Premier League’s fizzy teat, the prospect of Jordan Henderson carefully stacking together 90 minutes of sensible passing delivers little in terms of ‘swash’ or ‘buckle’.
In fairness to the FA, they never planned to entrust the entertainment of a dangerously disillusioned fan-base to a man who probably spends his weekends bleeding radiators and rating craft ales.
Their Plan A was to draw a picture of a bear, with the face of a shark and bazookas instead of hands, and then simply hire the closest human equivalent. That bear-shark-bazooka hybrid was, naturally, Sam Allardyce who – having marketed himself as the ‘maverick’ choice – stayed admirably on-brand and ‘mavericked’ himself almost instantly out of a job.
With their ‘Harley Davidson manager’ flaming and mangled in the shattered window of a Nandos, the FA had little choice but to entrust their World Cup journey to a decidedly more ‘Ford Focus’ character.
And, in his first two games, Gareth Southgate did at least manage to settle the froth bubbling over from the Allardyce business. Unfortunately, he did this by producing two performances so dull that, by the end of the goalless draw with Slovakia, we were all downing tankards of wine and offering slurred promises to the cat about getting around third party ownership rules.
Southgate, while an utterly lovely man, also seems like a fairly effective way to make 90,000 people in a football stadium be quiet and sad. After all, I suppose no one’s likely to smash a police horse in the face with a torn-out seat if they’re paralysed by ennui.
But, while we’re showering Gareth with the blame, let’s all remember the tools (as it were) he has to work with. Wayne Rooney looks more like a vegetable being nudged sullenly around a toddler’s dinner plate than a record-breaking international footballer. And even players who are gobbling through Premier League opposition like they were tiny Haribo bears, pull on an England shirt and forget which way their knees should bend.
While there’s precious little to be positive about, at least England aren’t the only ones drowning in their own boggy mediocrity. This week’s Scotland game, for example, is a clash between two former Middlesbrough managers with best-ever-finishes of 12th in the Premier League (Southgate) and 11th in the Championship (Gordon Strachan).
Sadly, it seems we’d all be better off spending the international break chugging beakers of merlot and dancing our tits off to ‘Set You Free’ by N-Trance. Which, almost certainly, is what Big Sam will be doing.