If you spend some time out of the country, or reading other
countries’ sports pages, what you notice when you come back to
reading ours is that English sports writing is compulsively
moralistic. Everything is seen as a moral issue. Victory is a triumph
of character and will; defeat is a failing of character and will.
This theme is always present in the way people talk about sport, but
no-one stresses it as remorselessly as we do. Look at the New York
Times or L’Equipe and you will occasionally encounter the idea that
one team beat another because they were, you know, better. The main
reason one football team beats another is because they are better at
At least, that’s what I usually think. But the England team’s
performance in this World Cup has been a severe test of my view. It’s
hard not to see their failure as in some sense a failure of
character. Richard Williams is very firm-spoken on this point in
today’s Guardian. He says that England got what they deserved, and the reason Hargreaves—who was born in
Canada and moved to Germany at 16—was England’s best player is
because he’s never lived in England.
I find the idea that they’re a bit spoilt hard to dismiss. They look
and act spoilt. But they don’t look as if they’re not trying, and
there was nothing fake about how upset they seemed to be on going out.
I know—let’s blame the Swede.