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CAROLINE CRIADO PEREZ: The Three Lions can go jump in a lake

England's Harry Kane celebrates with the match ball after the final whistle during the FIFA World Cup Group G match against Panama (pic: Adam Davy/PA Images). - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

The matches themselves might be bearable, but everything else surrounding England’s World Cup bid is a bore, says an unenthused CAROLINE CRIADO PEREZ.

I didn’t hate football until I moved to England. My first big footballing memory was the 1990 World Cup. I was six, we were living in Portugal at the time, and Argentina were playing West Germany in the final. I remember the fun of feeling part of something so huge: that was the country my papa was from. And we were in the final. And we had Maradona – the best player in the world (don’t argue with me, I was six and also I don’t care).

Maradona was to punctuate my life as I grew up moving and travelling from country to country. Back then, if you told anyone you were from Argentina they would smile and say ‘Ah Maradona!’ It didn’t seem to matter where they were from or how little English (or Spanish) they spoke. He is – was – something of a lingua franca around the world. Watching his decline was an odd, sad part of growing up.

People in England, however, don’t like Maradona so much and I have a theory about this: it’s because you all take football too bloody seriously.

Last week Baroness Jenny Jones revealed that a cross-party group of Lords had convinced the whips to drop a crucial amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill that would guarantee environmental protections after Brexit – because they didn’t want to miss the football.

Our government is currently being pursued through the courts by the EU for failing to act on air pollution that has killed tens of thousands of people over the past decade, so let’s not pretend we don’t need this amendment. But somehow, football comes first and this is seen as acceptable.

Just the Lords being a great bunch of lads. I doubt we’d react in the same way if a cross-party group of peers wanted to scrap any kind of amendment (let alone such an important one) because they wanted to finish up in time to be in the front row for British fashion week.

By football, I of course mean men’s football. In this country at least, women’s football doesn’t count – even though in the 2015 World Cup the English national team beat Germany which, if I recall correctly, the men’s team has failed to do in a World Cup match since 1966.

It was a culture shock to me, moving here in the mid 1990s and discovering that I was meant to support a men’s football team in the English league.

It was one of the first things you were asked: what’s your name, where are you from, what football team do you support? My brother quickly assimilated, choosing Manchester United because it was the team his friend supported.

For this he was then called a glory hunter for years, as if any of this matters. As if the football team – the multi-million pound business – you support actually says anything significant about who you are as a person. I never chose one, partly because the pressure on girls to ‘have a team’ was different back then.

The final decade of the 20th century saw the apotheosis of lad culture, and with it came the witheringly diminutive ‘ladettes’.

Ladettes were the Gillian Flynn ‘cool girls’ of the 1990s. And my god did teenage me want to be one. But I also knew, deep down, that a ladette was a mirage. You were never really going to be one of the lads. Hence the ‘-ette’. Men’s football was just too special, too elevated, too complicated for our lady brains. I remember my shock at discovering what the hallowed offside rule was – this? Really? This is the thing you think we could never understand? Just how stupid do you think women are?

It’s still going on today. Last week saw journalist Simon Kelner published in the i newspaper complaining about female pundits commentating on the sacred men’s game. In his own words, Eni Aluko is ‘a titan of women’s football’ who over her 17-year career has ‘won every honour the game has to offer’ and has played more than 100 times for England.

She also ‘has a first-class degree in law, and is a polished, articulate, engaging person’. And yet, somehow, what you might consider an absurd level of over-qualification is not good enough for Kelner. Men’s football is still just too complicated for ladies. In no other field would you get away with peddling such blatantly sexist clap-trap today. But somehow, when it comes to the beautiful game, everyone in this country loses their goddamn minds.

It’s been a long time since I pretended to care about men’s football. I don’t mind the actual 90 minutes-worth of men running up and down a field (although dear god it can be dull – up and down, up and down, I feel like Homer Simpson having just discovered a reclining chair). But as for everything that surrounds it, the jingoism, the sexism, the way it’s taken so absurdly seriously, that can naff off. I don’t care about our brave boys. I don’t care that football’s coming home. Three Lions can jump in a lake.

That all said, though, last weekend I did find one side-effect of the men’s World Cup that I truly can celebrate. It was a gorgeous sunny Sunday in June, and the park was deserted.

I could let my dog off the lead without worrying about her bothering angry picnic-makers. So, you know, carry on, England.

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