Anyone but England
English sport may have died a thousand deaths, but last week the body was cremated and the ashes were strewn across Gelsenkirchen. The 1st of July traditionally signifies the peak of the English summer, yet last week it signalled the nadir of English sport. Few countries have a richer heritage in sport than England, yet as a sporting nation they have seemingly achieved nothing. This leaves a couple of questions to be answered: Are the English satisfied with just competing, putting up a good performance and losing or are they merely underachievers without ambition? They seem to be happy with the memories of their forefathers, when they were once a force in sport. Now they are simply a farce.
T'greatest fast bowler who ever drew breath Fred Trueman, 1931-2006
As the English footballers were busy playing Portugal in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, their cricketers were being dismembered by Sri Lanka. A few hours apart both sets of fans were left with tears, and distant promises of better performances were all they could hold on to. Last summer Cricket was the new football, Ashes fever had taken over the country, even David Beckham was watching the cricket. Less than a year later things have returned to normal, their cricketers are getting the hiding of their lives and the football team has crashed out of the World Cup, they pat themselves on the back and say "better luck next time". That has been the English attitude towards sport for generations, failure is greeted with a small sense of relief, for them there will always be a next time. Every step forward is followed by two steps back.
England took a squad brimming with talent and confidence to Germany, people had hoped that Sven-Goran Eriksson's swan song would end in World Cup glory. But it was another case of what might have been, to be honest I think everyone is a little relieved that England did not win the World Cup. One thing the English can't handle well is success, last year eleven English cricketers received an MBE each for winning the Ashes and beating Australia for the first time in two decades, in 2003 the entire rugby World Cup winning squad was awarded MBEs. If England had won the World Cup the entire twenty-three man squad would probably have been knighted, with Eriksson being made next in line to the throne. They seemingly have no fear of failure, because it is expected of them, but the thought of success must strike fear into the heart of every English sportsperson. The press has a major role to play here, every minute success is plastered all over the front pages, and failure is followed by thousands of column inches of venom. Success is greeted with millions of pounds in endorsements, and is soon followed by lavish lifestyles. Every move is followed by the tabloids and soon they become victims of their own fame and success. One may argue that this happens all over the world, but in England the pressure is far more intense and the media spotlight is far brighter, coupled with the fact that they have the worst tabloids in the world.
English football legend Gary Lineker said "This is a golden generation of English talent" when talking about the current England World Cup squad. The question to be answered is why do they fail and choke over and over again? Their footballers are some of the best in the world, they play in possibly the best league in the world, they have faced rather weak teams during the World Cup, but just why can't they win? Their failure is rooted to their past, they have grown up seeing a team of chokers, players who have just never risen to the occasion. All they did was match their heroes and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The English are proud of every sport they play, more often than not they have shaped and defined that game. Cricket, Football, Tennis, Badminton, Rugby, you name it and they have once excelled at it. Yet they still dream of a little success, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world is Wimbledon. Yet no English player has won their "home" tournament since Fred Perry in 1936. Every English player has been burdened with that fact and the crowds at Wimbledon have grown accustomed to home talent never really cutting it at the highest level. Tim Henman is a perfect example, every year "Henmania" takes over Wimbledon, yet the pressure put on him is beyond belief and he is yet to progress past the semi finals. His talent has been blunted by the collective pressure of a nation.
On the first of July 2006 the English cricket team got a drubbing of a lifetime against Sri Lanka, the visitors chased down 322 in 38 overs for the loss of two wickets, it was one of the most comprehensive victory's ever. With that they lost the matches in a row to be whitewashed 5-0. All of this was after they manhandled Sri Lanka in the first two tests. It was all very embarrassing but the cricketers got away with it because the focus of the nation was on the World Cup and England's progression to the semi finals. Within a few hours they were both over and it was a truly dark day in English sport. The cricket was horribly embarrassing for a number of reasons, firstly less than a year after winning the Ashes and claiming to be the best team in the world, they have been comprehensively beaten by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, all ranked lower than them. After all the Ashes euphoria it was time to go back to the English cricket of old, international whipping boys. They have spent too much time in the tabloids living it up, one good performance had the public under the impression that they were world beaters. Yet another case of not handling the pressure of success, it went to their heads and now with their ego's deflated they have come back down to earth. This is a story that has been repeated time and time again throughout the annals of English sporting history, will they ever learn?
English disappoints again this year
The first of July will truly be remembered as one of the darkest days in English sporting history, their cricket team was beaten senseless and their footballers could not yet master the art of a World Cup penalty. While many people may point to that as the darkest moment of the day, for me it was not. That day legendary English fast bowler Fred Trueman died, and with him a little piece of English history. Fiery Fred as he was known was everything today's sportspersons are not. He played with honesty, integrity and an agricultural charm that came from his native Yorkshire upbringing. If England were to look for a sporting icon it could rightly be him. He was known to have one of the biggest egos in the world, yet his performances never dimmed with praise that was heaped on him, English footballers and last years Ashes winners take note. He once half jokingly suggested to John Arlott that the title of his biography should be "T'Greatest Fast Bowler Who Ever Drew Breath", some would say he got it spot on. He was amateur and professional all rolled into one, and wore his heart on his sleeve for his country. After it was all said and done he was a real character, had a comment for every situation and bled for Yorkshire and England. For me his death was the real loss on the 1st of July, the rest was just a case of deja vu. When next in need of inspiration English sportsmen need only to look to old Fiery Fred for some advice, may he rest in peace, he was never short of a word!
Mike Marquee wrote a fantastic book named 'Anyone But England: Cricket and the National Malaise. In the book he questions the very foundations of English cricket and puts forward questions no one else dared to ask. It can best be described as a book almost about cricket. It is from his book that I have taken the title of my article and for me the title is most fitting. The 1st of July was the cremation of English sport, the people have had enough, its time to support anyone but England.
Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2006