Friday, June 30, 2006

Defeat: The Only Route To Restoring English Dignity

It’s wholly embarrassing being English during a major championship, with everyone from tabloid editors to white van men requisitioning your beliefs and allegiances before wrapping them in the cross of St George.

England’s net impact on the world is subjective (railways good; slavery bad) but not so the football team who have been entirely devoid of likeability or talent for pretty much the last four decades.

Yet despite their glaring inadequacies, the English rumble on as if only a conspiracy to dwarf the Kennedy Assassination has kept the gold trophy from taking up permanent residence on Brian Barwick’s mantelpiece.

Match Officials, mafia fixers and Lady Luck have patently been meeting in smoky back rooms throughout recent major championships: how else do you explain these tournaments being won by better motivated, more talented opponents?

The most concerning point is this: the yawning gap in defeat between the English and dignity becomes a canyon in victory.

If the furore surrounding another penalty shoot-out failure will last a week then the fall-out from victory will be far greater: The Sun will not rest until Scott Carson has at least a knighthood (and preferably a baronetcy) to fall back on.

It is well documented that the World Cup produces a nationwide feel-good factor with unprecedented boosts in consumer spending as well as a spike in the birth rate but the English quite simply do not deserve the spoils of victory.

This is not only economic (although they are already richer than any other nation left in the World Cup) but also social: the place will be uninhabitable through nine interminably smug months, at the end of which scores of Waynes and Waynettas will be born from Penzance to Penrith.

While any other nation will make success a collective carnival, England will view it as long overdue acknowledgement of their innate superiority.

Flags and bunting will be hung from every available vantage point with any reluctance to show pride in our brave, semi-literate boys decried as political correctness gone mad.

A World Cup win would unmask the English as a boorish, vainglorious nation in a way not seen since the Chinese Opium Wars.

Until midweek this has been of little concern, since as well as being the richest team left in the tournament they have also been the worst by some distance.

But in recent days the cliché “three wins from the World Cup” is resonating with a foreboding air: England need to be stopped, and as fast as possible but by whom?

Step forward Portugal.

In far greater need of the economic and social prosperity success brings and guaranteed to celebrate with something approaching humility, they also have a team defined by fire and skill rather than self-promotion and indulgence.

On Saturday you must cheer for Portugal, even more so if you are English: defeat will be for our own good.

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