England's Euro 2024 hopes are brittle enough - let's avoid a tabloid witch hunt

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The Three Lions begin their campaign against Serbia on Sunday evening

Famed American showman and circus owner P.T. Barnum once supposedly said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, as long as they spell your name right. I can think of plenty who would beg to differ; the Nixon administration, post-Watergate, for instance. Or that MP who was found to have been watching pornography in the House of Commons a couple of years ago, perhaps. Please register to vote, by the way.

You see, the press - and especially the tabloids at their vitriolic and vilifying worst - have the power to influence and sway, to brainwash and poison, in reckless abundance. Narratives are pushed, agendas are flexed, and while evidently there are times that their ire is justified (nobody believes you were googling tractors, Neil Parish), there are many, many others when it is not.

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Which brings us to Euro 2024, and more specifically, England’s prospects at the tournament. The Three Lions begin their campaign in earnest on Sunday evening against Serbia while coming to terms with the frighteningly alien concept of being many onlookers’ favourites to win the whole thing. It’s the hope that kills you. And that inflates expectations to a point where every slight misstep is regarded as a crime akin to treason.

Now, granted, we have come quite a long way since the era of cutout dartboards with player’s faces on them and explosive front page spreads calling for professional footballers to be exiled having simply express their intention not to represent the national team. But by no means are the tabloids of today squeaky clean when it comes to their portrayal of the beautiful game, and more pertinently, those who play it.

Whether it is digging out players and managers over the tiniest thing, or something as mundane as leaking tactical plans ahead of time, the constant hunger for scandal and exclusivity can often lead to headlines that bleed towards the ethically dubious. The unfortunate reality is that indignation sells, and as a consequence, it can often feel as if certain publications seek mountainous foibles where there are, at best, molehill-sized hiccups.

And if you need any evidence as to the detrimental impact that the press can have on a travelling contingent, you must only look as far as Kyle Walker’s reaction to England’s starting XI being leaked at the 2018 World Cup.

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“I think if you guys try to keep it to yourself and don't bring it out to the world, because it's not going to help us come the later stages of the tournament, please God we get there,’ the Manchester City full-back said. “All the rest of the world's seen our team now, if that is the team or if not... As I say, you guys have to do your little bit, so if you could just please help us with that it would be polite.”

Concern this time is heightened further by the fact that England, despite their lofty standing with the bookmakers, head into the tournament in less than auspicious form. Their North Eastern win over Bosnia and Herzegovina was hardly majestic, and the subsequent defeat to Iceland at Wembley was enough to provide a bite-sized sample of the panic that could ensue if their group stage sojourn begins at anything less than a canter.

Of course, it should go without saying that nobody in any walk of life, footballing or otherwise, is above valid criticism, but in a perfect world, those shaping opinion and discourse would temper their interpretations with a dash of rationality and a general suspicion of sensationalism. That is, however, not always the case.

And because of that, it is very easy for ideas to snowball and mob mentalities to reign supreme. Naturally, this suits the suits slinging ink, but it adds little value to meaningful conversation and does nothing at all for the collective hopes of a nation and the squad representing them. Nobody is asking for a cult of personality, but aiming to not actively hinder England’s brittle hopes of glory would be a decent start.

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