British Sport and Conservative Pragmatism!
Posted on June 24, 2015
I stayed up late on Tuesday night to watch the England Women take on and eventually beat Norway at the Women’s World Cup in Canada. I would like to say that this was an act of right-on feminism of a man steeped in post-modern culture but the truth is, there was not much else on and it has to be said that I am the type of guy who, if England were competing in the World Tiddlywinks Cup, I would be pacing the room saying “GET IT IN THE BLOODY POT FOR CHRIST’S SAKE…!!!”
Before the game commenced I was reliably informed by the pundits that included former women’s players and Trevor Sinclair, that these girls were the most talented England had produced for some time and that they had the potential to “Go all the way”!
What a statement of depressing familiarity if ever there was one.
So, after a bright opening minute or two, the English girls started to retreat further and further into their own half as wave after wave of Norway attack was repelled by increasingly desperate hoofing up to Fran Kirby (dubbed as the ‘Mini Messi’) and Toni Duggan, who were hopelessly out-muscled by the tall and athletic Norwegians.
Remarkably, England survived scare after scare and got to half-time at 0-0. The pundits once again expressed their belief that these girls had talent to get the ball down and pass it, despite emphatic evidence to the contrary. There was nothing to suggest to me that on Wednesday morning, we wouldn’t be hearing a crackled post match radio commentary from Norway saying “David Cameron, can you hear me…your girls took one Hell of a beating…” in a repeat of that famous night when England lost in Oslo in 1981.
Commentary from that famous Norwegian night in 1981
Nothing changed after half-time; the girls retreated once more, fearing failure, opting for safety and a conservative, pragmatic approach. This was exemplified by the build up to the Norway goal when the goalkeeper, Karen Bardsley, not for the first time, parried for a corner a shot that appeared to be going about 15 yards wide. It was an act of misjudgement that did nothing to dispel the chauvinistic notion that women have no sense of direction.
In women’s football, a corner generally results in spectacular chaos and this proved to be the case once more as Norway, blessed with stronger physique, bundled the ball in to the net and wheeled off in delight to celebrate wildly. The pragmatism of Bardsley had proved costly.
What happened next was remarkable. England, suddenly faced with imminent defeat, came off the ropes and began to show genuine skill, taking the game to Norway, with substitute Jill Scott the catalyst for an excellent fight-back and emphatic victory courtesy of a fine header from Steph Houghton and a screamer from Lucy Bronze.
Never in sport have I seen such an example of how we are as a nation, not just as sportsmen and women but also in life. We are conservative with a small ‘c’ putting perceived safety first, not allowing ourselves to get carried away by showing ambition and making sure we don’t make errors we might regret. This not only stymies our flair at sport but also in our daily thinking.
The recent general election was a fine example. In England we have all had enough of bankers, we have had enough of the fact that austerity (unless we work in the city) wasn’t our fault and we have had enough of huge corporations who base themselves in Britain, make huge profits and then hive all their money offshore without paying anything to the HMRC, the people who will mercilessly chase us mere mortals for a £100.00 if we send our tax return in a day late.
So what do we do? Vote for it again, because, actually, unless we get old and sick, we are not so bad off really, sat in our warm homes with gadgets and other stuff that serves us little purpose after the initial thrill of the purchase. We, as a nation, are addicted to the Status Quo (not Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt) and we only become creative when all odds are stacked against us and everything is about to go belly-up. The Miracle of Dunkirk in WWII was a classic example.
However, there are signs of changes afoot. Just a couple of months ago, the England cricket team headed for New Zealand under the leadership of a pragmatist armed to the back teeth with a plethora of spreadsheets and performance graphs for his bemused players to study and follow rigorously. After thrashings by Australia and New Zealand, they hit an all-time low as they were dumped out by Bangladesh in a manner that gave an impression that they were a team light years away from even moderate achievement.
However, under the recent new management, the players were instructed to throw off their shackles, start on the front foot, attack with flair and enjoy showing the world their vast array shots. The result was a five match series against New Zealand that had a nation of sports fans emerging from their apathy and once again throwing their support behind a brand of cricket that is alien to the conservative and pragmatic approach undertaken by the long list of turgid failures behind them.
With this brand of cricket, England will have some spectacular crashes on the way, but they will also have stadiums at capacity, people talking about the game once more and kids starting to want to play again after a decade (since Ashes 2005) of falling participation. There isn’t anything not to like about English cricket in its new form, but when they fail, there will still be a long line of pragmatists queuing up to criticise them and long for a return to the good old days.
Joss Butler: An integral part of ‘New England’ Cricket
Of course, our national football team is still managed by a pragmatist who is conservative by nature but maybe, just maybe, as the old farts die off, a new structure will emerge where the fundamentals of success come from the freedom of expression, enjoyment and the appreciation, as shown so emphatically by New Zealand’s cricketers, of representing your nation at something you love.
How British people can become less conservative on the whole I don’t know. Our safety first conservatism is deeply ingrained in our DNA and our instinct is to long for a golden past, rather than a golden future. Our memories are of clouded judgement, when music was great, footballers didn’t dive or cheat, summers were proper summers and Britain was a united nation rather than a divided one. All nonsense of course, but you trying telling that to the average Daily Mail/Express reader.
Like the England cricketers have done, maybe the time has arrived to look for an alternative way forward for our country, where the freedom to express creative thinking and an alternative way to how we treat others is rewarded. A country where we punish corporate empires who abuse the system on the back of huge political donations in the exchange for Knighthoods. In other countries across the globe, co-operatives are springing up all over the place, an ideology where success is shared by all not just a few; maybe now is our time to do the same?
What I have learnt over the last couple of weeks (even when I opened my own shoulders and scored 45 on Sunday) is that if English people can release themselves from deluded nostalgia and let their creativity blossom, whether it is in sport, or in life, England would be a nicer happier place to live in, rather than one that is often seething with simmering resentment.
On a final note, I am delighted to announce that Patrick Barrie (England) beat his nemesis, 24 times world champion, Larry Kahn (USA) in the 2014 world tiddlywinks final after, no doubt, ditching his conservative approach.