'Deprived' England fans back clubs stars for Euro
English fans are putting a brave face on their country's absence from Euro 2008 by throwing their support behind countries whose star players ply their trade in England, with Spain leading the way.
For the first time in 14 years, England are staying at home while a top international tournament takes place without them.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also failed to qualify, and not even that traditional standby for British fans, the Republic of Ireland, made it to this month's finals in Austria and Switzerland.
Fortunately for heartbroken England fans deprived of seeing David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and co. in action, the highly international English Premier League is helping to fill the void. Supporters are simply choosing to support the countries that their favourite club players represent.
Richard Lawrence, 33, a carpenter from Essex who works in London, is a fan of lower division Ipswich, but he admires the skills of Liverpool's Spanish striker Fernando Torres and playmaker Cesc Fabregas of Arsenal.
He said: "I'll be supporting Spain because they've got Torres and Fabregas. They really should be better than they've been in the past, given the players they've got.
"It's not a major deal for me that England aren't in it. I'll still go to the pub to watch some games and definitely the final."
He is not alone, with surveys showing English supporters leaning towards either Spain or the Netherlands.
Aidan Harvey, 26, a financial advisor in London, is pinning his colours to the Czech Republic - because their midfielder Marek Matejovsky plays for his favourite club, Reading, who were relegated from the Premier League last month.
"We've been discussing this in the office and we've each chosen a team, but it had to be the Czechs for me. It's quite an unusual choice, but then Reading don't have too many international stars!"
A detailed survey by lads' magazine Nuts found that 13 per cent of respondents favoured Spain, who are seeking to end a long wait for an international trophy stretching back to 1964.
The Dutch - perhaps thanks to the presence in their squad of Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar - came a close second in the poll, and they topped a poll in the left-leaning Guardian newspaper too.
But the fact that all 16 countries at the finals received some support shows how international the Premier League has become.
There is though one subject all British fans agree on - the team they don't want to win is their old sporting enemy, Germany.
A whopping 31 per cent in the Nuts poll said British fans were hoping the Germans failed to add this year's title to the European crowns they won in 1996, and in 1972 and 1980 as West Germany.
Television coverage of the tournament in Britain will be extensive despite the British teams' no-show.
Former England striker Gary Lineker, who will front the BBC's coverage, is also backing Spain to win, because he used to play for Barcelona.
He described England's failure to qualify as "a bit of a whack, a bit of a blow" but he can see a silver lining for a nation that has failed to win anything since the 1966 World Cup.
"The upside is we won't have to suffer the massive disappointment - we'll escape that," he told The Times.