July 07, 2015

Horse 1932 - Why Bother Following England In Any Sport?

When the Matildas lost 1-0 against Japan in the last five minutes of regular time in their Quarter-Final clash at the Women's World Cup, it meant that one of my great internal conflicts would never arise in the tournament. Had they won, the Matildas would have face the Lionesses in the Semi-Final.
Once again, this would have meant that the oldest major rivalry in sport, would be played out yet again on another pitch. It would have been Australia versus England for a chance at the final. Sadly, this didn't take place and my loyalties settled upon England yet again.
The Lionesses couldn't escape their inherent Englishness though and duly lost against Japan, to sent them into the match for third place. Falling over at the critical moment in sport is something which no English team can escape and it applies equally to the ladies as it does to the men.

This brings me to an interesting thought. Although I live ten thousand miles away and on the other side of the planet, why do I follow England? What can possibly be gained by following a nation which keeps on failing at most sporting competitions? Is it some sort of sporting self abuse? Why bother if the expectation is that the team will be rubbish and they're going to lose anyway?
Moreover, what do you do when they buck the trend and defy expectations by actually winning? In 2003 when Johnny Wilkinson potted that ball between the uprights to give England the Rugby World Cup, I genuinely didn't know how to react. If winning is not your default setting, then how do you do so either gracefully or disgracefully?

The England cricket team occasionally pulls off Ashes series wins but the One Day side has never won the Cricket World Cup. England has held the ICC World Number One ranking for the Test, One Day and Twenty 20 formats of the game simultaneously but even when that did happen, the default mode of English pessimism was never far away. Even with The Ashes starting later in the week, I'm fully expecting England to lose the series in a 5-0 whitewash; which again brings me back to the heart of the question. Why bother following England if you.expect them to lose?

The same question could be asked of New York Jets fans, or St Kilda fans, or Newcastle United fans. Although all of them win games occasionally, the chances of them winning a championship are remote in most seasons. Hope exists but it is moored beyond the horizon; out of sight. This is the essence of why people bother - hope.

It is one thing to have a hope which you know will be fulfilled eventually. That is like holding a cheque in your hand which you know one day, you will redeem and claim the reward. It is quite another when you hold out hope for an uncertain thing which might not even happen. Hoping for the uncertain and which in most circumstances will definitely not take place, is the act of both an optimist and a moron but the actual payoff should the thing ever occur, is massive.

If you look at the other side of the piece, fans of Manchester United and now Chelsea, are incredibly smug in comparison. They are often keen to point out how wonderful their team is but if they don't win, they sulk. Supporters of teams that almost never win and in fact expect to lose, aren't as phased if they lose because they're used to it but the joy if they happen to win anything, is incredible.

When five time World Champions, Brazil, were bundled out of the 2014 World Cup, the depths of despair were far far deeper than for England fans who consistently fail. The pill of defeat seems more bitter if you've supped on the sweet nectar of victory. If you haven't tasted victory for more than a generation, then defeat doesn't seem as bitter as it otherwise could have been.
In the case of England, this shows itself up in the writing of songs, such as Skinner and Baddiel's "Three Lions" which contains the line 'thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming'. Scotland who almost never even qualifies for the World Cup had a song by Del Amitri in 1998 called 'Don't Come Home Too Soon'. They did.

If you follow Australia in the cricket, Manchester United in the English Premier League, Real Madrid in the European Champions League etc. then anything less than a win will be disappointing. If you follow England in practically any sport, be it cricket, rugby, hockey, football etc. then most of the time you can expect to lose. England is gloriously rubbish at most sports. When they win though, it's fantastic.

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