November 22nd, 2007

National Humiliation

The One Show is a reimagining of Nationwide- a show I grew up with and I like it for that reason. I also like its presenters- Adrian Chiles and Karen Blakeley-  who manage to be  quirky and larky without becoming obnoxious and that's a rare achievement. It's a light, newsy magazine programme with comic interludes and studio interviews and if you're bored by the current item there'll be something else along shortly.

Anyway they were going on last night about the England-Croatia match and Chiles who is half Croatian was presented with a half-and half shirt by Blakeley and left the studio early to get to Wembley before the kick-off and I got drawn in and left the TV running and found myself sort of watching the game.

I say "sort of " because I was sitting at the computer and only occasionally glancing sideways at the TV screen. Football is boring and  the only way I can cope with a whole two hours of it is to have it on as background music while I read about Gordon Brown's enormous data-loss cock-up or the epochal discovery of the Augustan shrine of Romulus and Remus in Rome.

There was this bunch of old footballers in the studio.  There was Wrighty and that Scottish one and the one who sells crisps and I rather think there was another one too. They were more fun than the match. I like listening to people who know their stuff- even when I'm not particularly interested in the stuff they're talking about.  After a while- after Croatia had scored twice in fifteen minutes- it became clear from the moaning and groaning that something rather extraordinary was going on. 

It wasn't just that England was losing- that happens often enough. We're happy  with the scenario of plucky little Brits going down before the mighty panzer divisions but putting up a stiff fight first. This was something else. There was no pluck on show, no stiff fight, just  a bunch of pampered millionaires having rings run round them, failing to gell as a team, failing to do anything much but stumble around like mud-encrusted lummoxes. Maybe the rain disagreed with them, poor things.

National humiliation. A defeat like no other. They deserved to lose, said the Scottish one. Not Dunkirk but Suez. 

Ailz and I were talking about it afterwards. She knows about football because Ruth tells her about it and Ruth is a United fan. So- Ailz was saying- it's because we don't breed our own players any more. The big clubs are cutting back on their youth teams. If they want a star, they don't train one up, they buy one in from abroad. The premiership is full of glitzy foreigners. Oh, and it's all Mrs Thatcher's fault  for selling off the school playing fields.

Yes, very true. And now I'm going to mount my hobby-horse.

The real problem with us English is we have a sense of entitlement.  We can't get over the Empire. We're top nation, we invented the game, one Englishman can thrash a whole pack of dagoes with his right arm tied behind his back and all we have to do to get into the European championship is show up on the night. We don't need committment or training or tactics or anything poncey like that. We're English; of course we'll win. 

Bloody England. Bloody, bloody, old England. I love my country and I hate my country. I love country lanes and oak trees and Shakespeare and Monty Python and all that sort of thing and I'm so sick of the arrogance-  that white man's burden thing that Blair used to preach which makes us suck up to the Americans even when we know they're being stupid and got us bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I cheered when Croatia scored. This kind of drubbing is good for us. We're not an Empire any longer. We don't have the answers, we're not the world's wiser, older brother, we don't get success handed us on a plate.  We're just a very little country.  And if we want to shine in future we're going to have to work very, very hard and be very very clever.