The first sign that things were beginning to turn came when the headmaster gave way to Simon Cowell.
‘For the majority of the time I really enjoyed working under him,’ Matthew Upson says of Fabio Capello.
Training was harder, rules were stricter, and results were on the up heading into the 2010 World Cup.
England had cruised through qualifying campaigns before, of course. But it seemed the circus under Sven-Goran Eriksson had been replaced by discipline and direction under a proven winner.
At least until a training camp in Austria where 30 players would become 23.
‘It was almost like an X-Factor boot camp,’ Upson tells Sportsmail. ‘The first step now was to get on the plane… as opposed to working with individual players on winning the World Cup.’
It is 10 years since England lost to Germany in the last-16 at the World Cup in South Africa
Germany players celebrate after claiming a 4-1 win over England in Bloemfontein
The game will be remembered for Frank Lampard’s goal that was not given by the officials
The dynamic changed. That ‘edge’ had gone. England never recovered.
‘It started to all unravel,’ Upson says. And with all the ingredients of reality TV – hope, heartache, intrigue and outbursts.
There were injuries, insipid displays, a rant from Wayne Rooney, the goal-that-never-was. Then the inevitable defeat by Germany.
So, to the vuvuzela’s unrelenting rhythm, the remains of England’s Golden Generation took their final bow on the biggest stage. The controversy of that 4-1 defeat in Bloemfontein, 10 years ago last month, seemed a fitting end to an era when football and celebrity clashed like never before.
A training camp in Austria where 30 players would become 23 set the tone for the tournament
Rob Green had a nightmare in England’s opening goal, conceding a sloppy goal against the US
Wayne Rooney also berated fans down the TV camera after a goalless draw against Algeria
Frank Lampard’s ghost-goal would finally end resistance to goal-line technology and from the wreckage emerged a new German team who would help change English football for good, too.
How quickly things can change.
Before the tournament, captain Michael Ballack and No 1 Rene Adler were ruled out by injury. The previous year, Lukas Podolski had slapped Ballack during qualification before Robert Enke’s suicide rocked German football.
‘An entirely new order had to be formed,’ Per Mertesacker remembered in his autobiography.
This new core of Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, and Co hit the ground stumbling in South Africa. So did England.
They lost captain Rio Ferdinand before a ball was kicked and any feel-good factor quickly followed.
A draw against the USA ended with Capello dropping goalkeeper Rob Green following his mistake that gifted the equaliser, and asking his players: ‘(Joe) Hart or Calamity (David James)?’ The awful stalemate with Algeria ended with Rooney berating England fans down the camera.
Only victory over Slovenia secured their place in the last-16. Joe Cole then watched Germany scrape past Ghana to join them.
‘I was (thinking): “We might have fallen on our feet here,”‘ Cole remembers. ‘We were very, very wrong.’
Before England could worry about the opposition, however, they needed to put their own house in order.
Germany were not at their best in that tournament but clicked into gear against England
Fabio Capello played a rigid 4-4-2 formation but players wanted him to try 4-2-3-1 instead
Miroslav Klose scored the opening goal of the game after a mix-up in the England defence
‘There wasn’t a massive amount of technical, tactical preparation for that game,’ Upson recalls.
Instead, England ‘almost had bigger problems to fix’: their entire performance.
‘That couldn’t have been helpful because those moments, those finer details of the tactical set-ups are obviously really key.’
The seeds of slight uncertainty sown in Austria still lingered, too.
‘I didn’t know if I was playing until half an hour before we got on the bus,’ Upson says.
Some preparation for the biggest game of the defender’s career. And during a chastening first half hour, he and the rest of Capello’s back four were torn to shreds. ‘We were a little bit exposed,’ Upson admits.
Neither Upson nor John Terry dealt with a Neuer goal-kick, allowing Miroslav Klose to open the scoring. For the second, the red sea parted after neat interplay from Ozil, to Klose, to Muller, to Podolski, who fired past James.
‘(Capello) would like his centre-backs to go in and press the ball,’ Upson says.
‘I remember looking at John Terry and both of us saying: “Look we need to just step out here and not actually go in. Because by one of us going in we’re creating the space for them to fill.”‘
He adds: ‘Ozil was luring either one of us into that little pocket of space and then Klose or Muller or whoever was running from deep was trying to exploit that.’
Lukas Podolski made it 2-0 with a trademark finish past a helpless David James on 32 minutes
Matthew Upson managed to pull one back for England with a towering header before half-time
Lampard’s effort crashed against the crossbar and went over the line but the officials missed it
Wayne Rooney protests the decision to not award the goal but England trailed at half-time
England did eventually gain a foothold and then, eight minutes before the break, Upson rose to meet Steven Gerrard’s cross.
‘I’d been working a lot on attacking the ball,’ he remembers. ‘My main thoughts were: “Just be gentle.”‘
From kick-off, England came again. James Milner collected a loose ball and found Jermain Defoe. From his turn, the ball cannoned off Lampard just outside the box. The midfielder lifted the bouncing ball over Neuer, off the bar and in.
Little over 50 seconds separated the two goals.
‘Straightaway, I looked at the linesman,’ Mertesacker said. ‘Continue play. The ball hadn’t crossed the line.’
It had, by about a metre. Only the linesman, Mauricio Espinosa, thought otherwise.
‘The English felt cheated. But in all honesty, that doesn’t matter,’ Mertesacker added.
‘Would it have been possible for Manuel to approach the referee and tell him the ball had gone in… we didn’t dwell on it afterwards.’
As fury swelled in Bloemfontein and back home, England tried to do the same.
‘It was a joke really,’ Upson admits. ‘We got into the changing room and the first minute or so we were debating as to whether the goal was in.’ Then Capello’s side resharpened their focus.
‘It’s a hammer blow but of course we haven’t got time to cry about it,’ Glen Johnson remembers.
Lampard wheeled away to celebrate and could not believe his goal had not been given
Mesut Ozil burst onto the scene and was sublime as Germany tore apart England’s defence
Thomas Muller also announced himself to the world with a superb brace in the second half
To their credit, England kept pressing. Lampard’s swirling free-kick crashed into the bar before ambition proved their undoing.
From another free-kick, 25 minutes from time, Germany broke. Bastian Schweinsteiger found Muller, who smashed home. Within a few minutes, the game was over. Again England swept forward, again Germany made them pay. This time, Ozil sprinted past a floundering Gareth Barry before finding Muller for his second.
Lampard’s ghost-goal would prove the final nail in Sepp Blatter’s fight against technology.
But by full-time injustice had been pushed to the back of England minds.
‘We knew it was a goal, but I think you’re just emotionally drained,’ says Cole, who never played for England again. ‘You can’t feel hard done by. You haven’t got the energy for that.’
That night, England flew back to their remote Rustenburg base where, for weeks, tensions had simmered without WAGs or broadband. The next morning, the debrief began. It’s hardly stopped since.
Capello said he pleaded with the authorities to put another official behind the goal a few months before the tournament. They declined. ‘We worked for two years and because of someone else’s mistake we’re going home,’ he recently told The Guardian.
Johnson agrees: ‘We were super unlucky… if it’s 2-2 at half time we don’t need to chase a goal.’
Germany went through and were eventually beaten by champions Spain in the semi-finals
Tensions had simmered throughout at England’s Rustenburg base because of the strict regime
It was the Golden Generation’s final chance of success but they couldn’t deliver once again
It seems blinkered, though, not to widen horizons.
England had been awful all tournament. Why? Injuries didn’t help, while three-quarters of those selected were told they were overweight.
Ketchup and butter were banned at meal times and Upson says: ‘(Capello) was obsessed with weighing people and body fat.’
Questions around the manager surfaced even before the Germany game, too. For all of Capello’s pedigree, his 4-4-2 looked outdated. Some of England’s senior players wanted him to consider switching to 4-2-3-1. All to no avail.
Then there was his poor English and a nagging sense, in the eyes of Cole at least, that Capello never ‘committed fully’ to the task.
Capello denies this, of course. But Cole adds: ‘Italy were playing at the World Cup and (someone) heard him and the guys jumping and celebrating when Italy scored. That just didn’t sit well with me.’
And yet, for all the introspection, there was an appreciation of what they had faced.
So much so that in 2014 the FA laid out the ‘England DNA’ (a philosophy designed to end the years of hurt). It was inspired in part by Germany’s rebirth after Euro 2000. Low’s side won the World Cup in Brazil, having come of age four years earlier.
‘At that tournament, they look like where we are now,’ Cole says. ‘A system put in place behind the scenes to get the best team.’
He adds: ‘I felt mistakes were made (in 2010)… but anger fuels me with regards to that and I’d love to one day be part of helping an England team win a tournament. I think we’re in the right place.’