It's the boredom that gets you in the end. The sheer, buttock-clenching misery involved in watching or supporting the England football team.
Has the nation ever been represented by a more miserable shower, one that under-achieves with such contemptuous ease, a bunch that appear to lack any sort of humility, perspective or motivation?
And then there?s the head coach. I?ll come to Sven-Goran Eriksson eventually, but the players ought to be able to reach beyond the hapless Swede and grasp just what it means to be playing for England, to be part of ? so we?re told ? the golden generation that has an outstanding chance of winning the World Cup next summer? As millionaires, are they now so detached from the supporters that they are unaware of the amount of goodwill they are losing by playing so poorly, with so little passion and pride?
They seem incapable of playing at a high tempo ? the natural way for any British footballer ? and of building on a lead. These days, England supporters get worried when the team goes one up, because that?s the time when they draw in their horns, pass the ball back, defend too deep and worship the great god called possession.
Yet England?s defence lacks a Baresi, a Maldini, a Bobby Moore. The defenders are simply not good enough to operate so close to their own goalkeeper, so the nerve ends get frazzled more and more as Eriksson displays a matchless ability to fold then unfold his arms enigmatically.
And the players do talk nonsense. They circled the wagons around David Beckham on Saturday night after the captain got himself crassly sent off. Sympathy poured out by the bucketful for the leader who is now playing from memory, whose influence should be on the wane in the dressing-room. But it isn?t because Eriksson treats him like a favoured son.
Beckham didn?t deserve to get sent off against Austria, but he did commit three fouls in ninety seconds, two of which brought yellow cards. The middle one, which was unpunished, was the worst of the three and that petulant explosion of misplaced dynamism from him after the first yellow card undermined his credibility.
Beckham chased around seeking retribution and none of his colleagues went up to him to tell him to calm down. This the captain who tried to do the same with Wayne Rooney last month in the Northern Ireland game, only to cop a hefty dollop of Scouse abuse. Perhaps Rooney thought that Beckham?s own short fuse invalidated him from such lectures ? if so he was dead right.
When will it dawn on Beckham that he is hopeless at tackling back and confuses demonic energy with unrelenting commitment? And when will he practise what he preaches? He warned the team beforehand that the Spanish referee had sent him off last season while playing for Real Madrid, and that everyone should beware the official?s pedantic ways. Yet the captain didn?t heed his own words.
He is totally unsuited to the task of being England captain. Smiling winningly at Garth Crooks and taking a benign interest in the mascot aren?t qualities which roar out your credentials. Anger management classes are the best chance that both Beckham and Rooney have of staying on the pitch in every World Cup match next summer ? and where would England be with just ten men? Inspiration and drive are scant enough with the full complement on board for the whole game.
Gary Neville should be England?s captain. Out at the moment through injury, he is sadly missed for his willingness to hand out rollickings on the park, to play reliably and with pride and because he?ll gladly go off-message when talking to the media. Neville is spikily intelligent, one of the few England players not to hide behind platitudes, aware that the fans aren?t thick.
He will make an excellent manager, one willing to risk unpopularity with his players. I?d love to know what Neville makes of his Manchester United team-mate, the incorrigible dreamer, Rio Ferdinand. We would all love to know what his thoughts were on being dropped last Saturday but he ducked the media at Old Trafford. Rest assured, though, he?ll be offering his profundities to the public this week via his lucrative, exclusive column in a tabloid. Just one of the many inconsistencies about current England players that stick in the craw. Stand by for the next Ferdinand blast at the negative press coverage.
Don?t expect Eriksson to offer moralistic sermons to his players, a sense that they should set an example in a sport that is rapidly running out of goodwill from the public. Eriksson has become as puerile as his players in that department. He is rattled and his gobbledegook ratio is rising as a consequence.
Last week, in the build-up to the Austria game, he bewildered the hacks by insisting that his press conference should be recorded by an FA video.
He said that too often his words had been twisted and misconstrued by the press and that he wanted a faithful record on this occasion. That smacked of a man nearing the end of his shelf life, like Captain Queeg playing with those brass balls in the claustrophobic submarine from the film, the Caine Mutiny.
The press corps weren?t at all bothered about this slight on their professional standards because many of them have copperplate shorthand, available for the closest scrutiny. They asked Eriksson for examples of when they?d twisted his comments and, lamely, he couldn?t summon up one.
I trust Eriksson won?t demur at the media quoting him thus at the weekend: ?We have in our team, when all are available, at least ten world-class players?. But he?s talking tosh, of course. No side that?s won the World Cup ever had ten world-class players. But they did have a blend and a common purpose.
There?s Rooney, yes. Ashley Cole is getting that way as long as he doesn?t have to defend. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard? They still lack judgement at international level, despite their stature in the domestic league. And can they play together in midfield? Michael Owen as a goalscorer, yes ? provided he gets good service. And Rio Ferdinand if he concentrates.
So you could make out a case for around four. But ten is a ridiculous over-estimate from Eriksson and a classic example of how he likes to curry favour with his players as they inhabit a semimasonic comfort zone. When they?re all cooped up in their luxurious Bavarian bolt-hole from the end of next May, the fissures will start to show and no amount of banalities from their head coach will protect them from the reality.
And the bottom line is that Eriksson is relying far too much on a nineteen-year-old Scouser whose Kevin the Teenager pose is starting to become very tedious.
Answers are required as Doug sails into choppy waters
This next week could be a significant one for Aston Villa?s season. On and off the field.
On Friday morning, Doug Ellis faces his annual grilling from certain disaffected supporters at the Villa Shareholders AGM, and although he invariably glides away from trouble with ease and no lack of skill, it?s usually a lively affair.
Whenever I?ve attended the AGM, Deadly Doug displays enough savoir faire and patience to draw the sting from too many speakers who lack the calmness and articulacy to disconcert him. Apart from that, he has the majority of shares in his pocket, so it?s often a case of just standing there, and taking the odd bucket of cold water full in the chops. And to be fair to the old boy, he gets in line to the bouncers and doesn?t duck under all of them.
But this time, there are choppy waters for him to navigate. His health must be a concern after his heart by-pass operation in the summer and it?ll be interesting to see how he shapes up on the podium.
Three months shy of his 82nd birthday, it would be a good idea if Ellis didn?t this time brush off his detractors with that old standby: ?They?ll have to carry me out in a box from Villa Park.?
If he is still up to the job of running a Premiership football club, he must display that mental aptitude and stamina on Friday.
This column has never doubted his devotion to Villa but the facts stare him in the face. It?s 24 years now since Villa won the title and a decade since the club seriously challenged for it. On the chairman?s watch since he took over in 1982, just two League Cups have been won, the last nine years ago.
We still await the definitive reason why Ray Ranson?s improved bid of #47 million for Villa was summarily dismissed in the summer. And what about these mysterious Russians who have hinted at doing an Abramovich at Villa Park? That trail has gone cold over the past month.
If Deadly Doug comes up with satisfactory answers on Friday, he?ll expect no less from his players 48 hours later when they play Birmingham City. Six Premiership games in a row and still no victory for Villa since Blues came up in 2002.
Not even diehard Blues? supporters would say that their side has been that superior to Villa in the past three seasons but the facts are painfully stark for the Claret and Blue part of the city.
Blues appear to be able to get under Villa?s skins and disconcert them. They?ve suffered goalkeeping howlers, a double sending-off and losing a two-goal lead as Blues keep hassling them. Blues seem to get themselves into the right combative frame of mind in the build-up and concentrate on the essentials.
Villa?s captain Olof Mellberg stoked the fires last season when he said that he didn?t like any of the Blues? players or their style of football and that was all Steve Bruce needed to motivate his lads. No team talk required.
And for the return fixture, Mellberg?s comments were given a bit of a twirl by some sections of the press and the relevant articles were pinned up in the Blues dressing-room - so don?t expect to hear or read too much about the match this week from the Birmingham camp.
Steve Bruce wants nothing in the public domain that might give Villa extra motivation, so normal service at this media-savvy club will be suspended for just one week. Even the manager will probably monitor his words carefully at his media briefing on Friday ? and that?s not like him.
As for Villa, get ready for David O?Leary to inform us on Friday that it?s just another game, that they?re all vital and you can?t get more than three points at a time.
Yeah, right. Hopefully there?ll be more transparency when O?Leary?s boss takes to the floor later that morning.