Friday, 3 April 2015

The Neverending Story (Or the emotional rollercoaster of being an English sports fan)

An inspiring tale of adversity
and ultimately, Redemption
We all want a good movie to have a few ups and downs, plot twists and to put the us through a range of emotions. We want to be engaged and affected by the characters, to feel disconsolate and despairing because of their troubles, inspired and encouraged by their fortitude, and ultimately uplifted and contented by their triumphs. We want to feel like they've earned the happy ending, they've demonstrated enough vivacity and vigour to warrant our affections. We want to see them grow and develop as time progresses, overcome frailties and conquer obstacles. We accept their mistakes and lapses in judgement, we endure the frustrations and we retain a glimmer of hope regardless of the dire circumstance. Overall, we want some kind of satisfactory conclusion, ideally a famous and emphatic victory.

Beckham's England career - the ultimate
footballing redemption story
Is it not the same with the saga of supporting a national sports team? The players and managers, wins and losses, injuries and suspensions, qualification and seemingly inevitable elimination, the undying hope of ultimate success? Teams show growth and development, promise and aspirations, they suffer disappointments and under-achievements, they demonstrate great skill and physicality before lapsing into old habits and insipid performances. Forever our teams seem to be showing encouraging signs, in a period of rebuilding and looking to the future. 

How can it be with a constant turnover of personnel involved there is no significant change in the relentless cycle each of our major international teams follow? It's like a Bond movie, the characters are different each time and the events vary slightly but ultimately the same basic things happen. The only difference is Bond always come out winning. 
We've all known a bit too
much of this in the last 25  years

Let's look at the football team and our endless pattern of:
a) promising major tournament qualification campaign with new players involved and a building sense of hope and expectation
b) a few poor performances & results in friendlies against major nations to keep our feet on the ground
c) some kind of drama / media storm in the months before the tournament itself
d) an ultimately disappointing tournament with "wholesale changes needed"
e) back to the start, rebuilding, getting rid of dead wood and bringing in new faces to refresh the whole cycle

The truth is that our young players, initially showing so much promise and excitement, rarely become anything spectacular. Over the last 20 years there has been 13 English winners of the Young Player of the Year award but just 7 Player of the Year awards. Only Gerrard and Rooney have won the Young Player and gone onto win the main one. Even worse, the Football Writers award has gone to just 5 Englishmen in 20 years. The issue of an increasing influx of foreigners is for another time, but the lack of development from promising youngster to world-class talent is sadly reflected by our national team never quite making the step up. 

The table shows our
FIFA world ranking since 1992. I nearly used the word "progress" but evidently that's not really suitable. What it does show is that with all the ups and downs in rankings, we should have done better than one semi-final in the last 25 years.

Following the cricket or rugby teams is hardly much better. The rugby team have of course known some recent success with the World Cup in 2003 and some 6 Nations wins but when you see the coach describe your team as "courageous" you know there's something wrong. Similar to how Scotland are repeatedly described as brave without ever improving, we have now come runner up 4 years in a row and are apparently still a young team maturing and building towards the world cup. Rarely do you hear a blunt opinion such as that of the RFU Chief Exec who is demanding higher standards. With less range of teams to compete against there is more consistency in terms of rankings but the same cycle of hope and disappointment goes on here.

I can't bring myself to write about the cricket team at the moment, and I don't think series against New Zealand and Australia this summer are going to help much.