English Dreams (English Heartache)

Article published on Oct. 20, 2007
Article published on Oct. 20, 2007
I recall reading some years back that male sex drive, testosterone and fertility rise at times where a man's sports teams are doing well. So, whilst the Favelas in Rio become even more overcrowded after another Brazilian masterclass, by the year 2100, should trends continue, the population of the British Isles will be around 27.
Watching the Rugby in the pub tonight I will bite my nails down to their wick, shout myself hoarse and should we win will walk around with a huge grin on my face. However as the clock ticks around to eight o'clock, I am filled with a deep sense of foreboding and cynicism, angst and a general malaise. A condition symptomatic of any seasoned, patriotic Englishman.

I just know, in the great English tradition, that they will f- it up and grab defeat from the jaws of victory.

Tis the English way.

Ah, but what about 2003 people will say. We did Australia in their own backyard. But in the same way that we toasted the 2005 Ashes success, we knew that it was a unique occurence the moment the first ball left Harminson's hand a couple of years later. The English football team messing up in Russia last Wednesday would have riled me more if it had not been oh so predictable. Just at the point you think you can relax and believe in an England team they mess up. It could be worse, and some people say that the English have an overblown sense of their own significance on the World stage. But it is not the losing per se that riles me but the manner in which we lose. An Englishman will invest so much emotional currency in the cause only to be let down. English sporting teams are prick-teasers. You take an interest in them, buy them drinks, subscribe to their inane chatter but when it comes down to the crucial moment they disappear off into the night and leave you to get a taxi home alone.

I was idealistic once, but I think that died when Chris Waddle skied the ball into the balmy Turin night in Italia '90. Two years later, when England were knocked out of Euro '92 by Sweden (the late Brian Moores' commentary 'Brolin...Dahlin...Brolin...oh yes!' still makes me angry fifteen years on). After that match I went to my bedroom and tore down all my England posters. My cynicism that year was reflected in my trick or treat costume.

I went as Graham Taylor.

But England's underperformance continued unabated in the classic fashion. Tabloid logic prevailed. England did not fail to qualify at the next World Cup because of their own ineptitude but by that of a referee in Rotterdam. I wonder if this is a traditional English approach throughout history? After the massacre at the Battle of the Somme, for example, instead of blaming Haig's incompetent strategy was it more a question of the Germans not playing fair with their machine guns?. The next European and World Championsips came around and with every disappointment my optimism was further skewered.

In many ways I crave the innocence that I had as a child. When I cried when England were knocked out of Italia '90 the hot, fat tears that rolled down my 9 year old cheeks were pure and genuine. Like when your first love leaves you for a mate, your emotions flow freely. You have never felt such pain before and have no point of reference to fall back on. When it happens again, you are upset, but in your more cynical mindset you put it down to experience, possibly go out and get drunk and start all over again...

The line between sport and love is an ambiguous one, as in many ways they are each a metaphor for one another.

Come on England, make me believe again.