Friday, July 12, 2024

England must rid itself of regarding heroic failure as success

Something very sad happened to me this morning. I was reading the sports pages and saw stories about England’s forthcoming friendly match with the USA tomorrow night and realised that I didn’t care. I’m not even one hundred percent sure that I’ll bother watching it.

I am a patriotic man and I love football. I am patriotic, not xenophobic like many of my fellow countrymen. I am proud to be English, although sometimes I struggle to work out why!

The fact that England are playing a meaningless friendly against America instead of playing a serious warm up game for the Euros is hard to bear. Part of me thinks that we should be preparing for that tournament as we ‘should’ be there. The fact is, however, that we were simply nowhere near good enough to qualify and that is the basic reason why we are not.

This got me thinking about England’s sporting prowess in general. We hold our heads up high and think we’re amongst the best, but this view tends to deliberately shy away from the very depressing reality.

At the end of last year the BBC Sports Personality of the Year event summed up the current state of English sport. The nominees for the award were boxers Joe Calzaghe and Ricky Hatton, bike rider James Toseland, Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton, tennis player Any Murray, Rugby players Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Robinson, golfer Justin Rose and athletes Paula Radcliffe and Christine Ohuruogo.

I know this is old news but it backs up the point I am trying to make. What is the one thing that all but three of the above names have in common? Yes, that’s right, they are known for being losers. They are all great sports people but they all lose.

Joe Calzaghe is a boxer who has never lost. He deserved his recognition and rightly won the award. James Toseland was world champion, but how many people care about motorbike racing? Christine Ohuruogo won some big race but had been previously banned for accidentally missing three random drugs tests.

The rest have all famously lost. Ricky Hatton was battered by Floyd Mayweather, Andy Murray has won nothing of note, Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Robinson were losing finalists in the world cup, Justin Rose has won nothing and Paula Radcliffe, despite being a great runner, has never produced the goods in the Olympics.

Please believe me I am not having a go at these individuals who are all dedicated and talented sports people. I am having a go at a country that celebrates heroic failure in a way that other countries must laugh at.

When you look at the main sports around the world, England’s record is pretty poor over the past twenty years or so. A rugby world cup win is about the only real success the country has had. Our cricket team beat Australia once a couple of years ago but once is the operative word. In football, our record has been abysmal.

The England team have twice failed to qualify for major tournaments and when we get there we have rarely gone past the quarter final stage. When we have, the team have been treated like heroes. In 1996 when the Euros were held in England, anything other than victory in that tournament should have been regarded as a failure. The semi-final defeat on penalties to Germany was a harsh blow, but the team and the manager were feted like they had achieved major success.

Following the 1990 World Cup semi-final defeat to Germany in Italy, the England team arrived home to a massive reception at Heathrow airport and the players were national heroes.

Both of these teams did reasonably well but I would ask how many of the other countries who regard themselves as being a top footballing nation would celebrate semi-final defeat?

That is England’s problem. We salute and celebrate heroic failure. Whilst we continue to award prizes and heap praise on people who basically fail to achieve what they and we want them to, England will continue to be a second rate sporting nation.

It is sad indeed that we still think of ourselves as a major power in the world of football. I am forty-six years old. I don’t quite remember the 1966 world cup. In my forty years of memories I have two semi-final defeats as the best of them. Which other major footballing country has a record so poor?

Our football team deserve to be playing a meaningless friendly against the USA because that is the level they have reached. Should we beat the USA I have no doubt that the media will begin talk of the revolution under Capello taking shape. I hope they are right. Fabio Capello is not English. He will never accept second best. Whether he can change the attitude of an entire nation is open to question.


Graham Fisher



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