Thanks England: Brexit 2 at Euro 2016 was sweet comedy relief from the grim real thing

In a dark few days for many Brits, the glorious schadenfreude of England 1 Iceland 2 was a welcome distraction from the real world

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 July, 2016, 2:35am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 July, 2016, 7:23pm

Ah, England, you taketh away and you giveth. As a Scot raised in Ireland, I share similar attitudes to our former colonial overlords as most sane people from those countries: a great love for its people, culture, history and landscape, mixed with a borderline unhealthy contempt for its politicians and national football team.

Much of last weekend was therefore spent in bewildered semi-depression at the gob-smackingly stupid actions of a group of English people (okay, and a fair few Welsh). Thankfully, come the early hours of Tuesday morning, the gob-smackingly stupid actions of 11 more of the same (plus subs and coaching staff, minus Welsh) were a proper tonic.

Watching England voting to Leave Europe with their feet in even more humiliating fashion than they had at the ballot box certainly cheered most of those Scots and Northern Irish who voted by a majority to Remain, and one assumes had Merkel, Sarkozy and the hordes of “Faceless Eurocrats” we were warned about chortling heartily.

As an economic immigrant (oh wait, we’re called “expats” here, aren’t we) it was embarrassing to see 17 million people conned by manufactured fear of the same to vote against their own self-interest in a pathetic ego-measuring contest drummed up by a few former Eton classmates at the expense of their country. On the other hand, England lost 2-1 to Iceland.

As a Brit abroad, being asked to explain to bemused friends why my country had just decided to apply a blunderbuss blast squarely to both feet grew wearing. On the other hand, there was a magnificent video doing the rounds on social media of Steve McClaren explaining on live TV how dominant Wayne Rooney’s team was, immediately before Iceland scored their second goal.

As a believer in Scottish independence who had been told that victory for Yes in that earlier referendum would lead to an EU exit, it was confusing to discover on Friday morning that the opposite was now the case. On the other hand, on Tuesday morning Scotland had not just been knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland.

(Yes, we weren’t good enough to actually qualify for the tournament, but, like Nigel Farage and his chums, let’s not get bogged down by boring “facts” here). As someone who thinks leaders should actually lead, making the difficult decisions they’re paid for, it was enraging to see David Cameron bail out immediately after landing the country in the toilet. On the other hand, it was highly amusing to see Roy Hodgson doing exactly the same, with a post-game resignation speech he had apparently spent the second half composing.

Yes, that game was a comedy beacon for some of us (sorry, English friends) in a fairly dark few days, as well as being one of the few truly memorable moments from a tournament that’s been rather dull overall.

Then comes the sad realisation that while the Brexit aftermath is set to continue aftermathing for years to come, England can’t suffer another humiliating exit from a major football tournament until 2018 at the earliest. Can’t we give them a bye into January’s Africa Cup of Nations? Japan have taken part in the Copa America before after all.

In fact, the schadenfreude glow has already worn off. There seemed to be an odd unwonted thread of humanity among the English football press pack, who recognised Hodgson as a fundamentally decent chap. How are we to distract ourselves from the real world now? Yes there’s the amusing hope that Cristiano Ronaldo, putting the “me” in team since at least 2009, will end another international tournament without a trophy, but it’s slim consolation. France, you feel, will have learned from Brexit 2 and will end the Iceland fairytale in their quarter-final, though perhaps Wales can keep us dreaming with a run to the final.

Germany, Italy or France will probably win the tournament, then it’s back to the depressing real world of news and not sport, with China’s economy heading for meltdown, Britain and Europe in turmoil, and the prospect of President Trump continuing his quest to turn the satirical comedy Idiocracy into a documentary.

Still, at least the Olympics start soon.