Competitive Games

Now, allow me to tell you why England came a cropper

Our World Cup thrashing can be traced to the ban on competitive school sports, says Boris Johnson.

Twenty million England football fans unpeeled themselves from the sofa and picked up the shattered remnants of the beer bottle they hurled at the wall in the 66th minute – when Mueller scored Germany’s third goal. With a heavy heart and a distended liver we all went on to the patio or the garden or whatever open space was available and stared with despairing eyes at the beautiful blue sky of one of the most perfect summer afternoons this country has ever seen. And together, like coyotes, we whimpered a single pathetic question in the general direction of the Almighty. Why?

Why does it always end like this? Why is it that our national team has once again vindicated the aphorism of Gary Lineker, that football is a game in which 22 men run around for 90 minutes – and then the Germans win? Why do we once again have to endure the post-mortems of the football sage Alan Hansen? It is always easy to distinguish between the great Mr Hansen and a ray of sunshine, but yesterday he certainly let England have it in the neck. “They were hopeless from start to finish,” he pronounced. “I don’t think I have ever seen a more inept performance.”

“It was a shambles,” said someone else, possibly Alan Shearer, and no one disagreed. In other papers less restrained than this one, there will today be a ritual orgy of national self-loathing, in which poor Fabio Capello and everyone associated with the England World Cup campaign will be fire-hosed with liquid ordure delivered with all the pent-up and primeval fury of an exploding undersea oil leak. Many commonsensical people will avert their eyes from this spectacle. They will find it vulgar and savage. They will try to argue that it is only a game, and that we should not mind losing to the Germans.

I am afraid they are wrong, or at least over-optimistic about our national temperament. For better or worse, this World Cup is international voodoo, and these 11 men stand for us all. They are anthropologically freighted with the weight of our expectations. So much of our national confidence, so much of our national pride, depends on the exact oscillation set up by the collision between Stephen Gerrard’s instep and a Jabulani ball.

All the evidence is that if England had won, the country’s glands would have collectively emitted great joyous jets of serotonin. Sterling would have soared. The Footsie would have leapt like a salmon in the mating season. Britain would have accelerated its climb out of recession; and instead we have the match you saw.

We managed to pull off the biggest ever defeat in the World Cup finals. We weren’t robbed. We were thrashed. As England return, it is obviously important that someone should say something in defence – or at least in explanation – of their performance. And since I am one of the few Telegraph columnists actually to have played for England against Germany (at the Madejski stadium in 2006) and can therefore claim to understand the huge pressures of this particular derby, I feel that function falls to me.

Some people will, of course, follow Fabio Capello in drawing attention to Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal. They will say it was a disgrace, and they will be right, but I am afraid their point would have more force if we had lost 2-1. You can’t blame the absence of an electronic touch-judge when the score is 4-1.

The problem wasn’t the lack of an electronic gizmo; the problem lay with the men on the pitch. Some will say it was all to do with Wayne Rooney and his curious listlessness, as though he was literally bowed by the burden of national hopes. Some will say it was all to do with the dressing-room mutiny allegedly led by John Terry, and others that it was bonkers to play Emile Heskey in the dying few minutes, and that we should have brought on Crouch.

More thoughtful analysts may say that actually those Germans weren’t half bad, with an array of Polish-German and Turkish-German talent that should serve as an impressive advertisement for managed immigration from eastern Europe.

But I think it goes deeper than that. To understand why we lost so badly, we need to look at the background field of causation. There is a reason why Germany have succeeded in getting through to the quarter-finals since 1938 and why England have so often failed. I had an insight, an omen, yesterday morning. I got up early to play tennis, at a municipal court. It is a lovely place, an oasis of green, in a densely populated area not far from London; and since I had failed to book I fully expected to be kicked off by 8am. Well, by 9am the courts were still deserted and we played blissfully on. It wasn’t until almost 10am – on one of the most glorious days of the year, a day when the whole of nature seems to shout that it’s time for tennis – that we were joined on the courts. A nice middle-aged couple turned up and began patting it to each other, and I thought, by heaven, what is wrong with us? Where is the get-up-and-go of our kids?

If this was Germany, they would have been out bagging the courts since dawn! Somewhere along the line the nation that invented or codified virtually every sport seems to have lost its lust for competitive games. I don’t want to exaggerate this. We did amazingly at the 2008 Olympics, and we have recently beaten Australia at rugby. But in our game, the world game, we should be doing so much better.  Even our golfers are better, maybe because golfers can practice like the pros with a golf launch monitor paired with their callaway edge golf clubs set.

I am sure the problem is partly to do with all those foreign players in the Premiership, but it’s more fundamental than that. We are still paying the price of an educational establishment that developed an aversion to competitive games and an obsession with bureaucracy and elf and safety that made it hard for the voluntary sector to fill the gap.

But let’s look on the bright side. We have a new government that should be able to change that, and at least it didn’t go to penalties.

18 thoughts on “Competitive Games”

  1. I’ll give you another, more basic, reason why they lost Boris! Namely, that they are a bunch of over privileged, indisciplined, mediocre playboys for whom the World Cup is a boring interruption that keeps them away from fast cars, their mansions and women (other people’s wags not excluded) Shame on them. Once again, they broke our hearts. More fool us for investing any faith in them!

  2. I kept thinking of those pictures of the troops in Afghanistan watching the match and how great it would have been for their morale if that overprivileged bunch of playboys had shown a twentieth of THEIR fighting spirit!

  3. Cheer up. It’s only a game. Twenty-two blokes in baggy underwear chasing a bag of wind. That’s all.

  4. Mel. xxx for something, you know what!

    Boris is such a genius. He unerringly fastens upon the one question that is dominating everyone’s thoughts, and writes his article about that – even though the match didn’t start until the middle of yesterday afternoon, and he had to get his copy into the Daily Telegraph for printing today. Cutting it fine or what?

    The question of course is WHY? Why do we always fluff it, why do we suffer because we hope, against the odds that our team will get somewhere in football and they never ever do! It’s not Capello’s fault. He tried to drill the big babies, but the process started too late, someone should have started to teach them discipline and sporting endeavour 25 years ago.

    Boris expresses our feelings perfectly, but he also gives us hope by providing the answer. Competitive sports were banned by Labour, the twits, (so they wouldn’t make anyone no good at sport feel bad!) Idiots! We need to fight, to strive, to go for it, why is everyone on twitter calling for Boris to captain our football team? Because he epitomises the sporting ethos of never giving up.

    Both he and David Cameron are keen sportsmen. David Cameron went for his run in Canada and to the admiration of the other G20 leaders dived into a river in his running shorts, to cool down. That’s the spirit! It earned him a free ride on the admiring President Obama’s private jet, while the other leaders had to leg it on their own.

    Boris plays tennis and is a whizz at ping pong. He has played rugby, football, he skis, he probably would play lacrosse, ice hockey and polo given half the chance. The video of him tackling a German player has gone down in history as an outstanding example of sporting endeavour.

    Thank God we have got someone normal to represent us abroad at last, sorry if that is tactless, but you know what I mean. Thank God we have Boris, who always senses the mood of the nation, and not only that, gives us hope by providing an answer. Bring back competitive sport, (already announced as going to happen) drill the little darlings till they drop from infancy, and teach them to laugh when their dear little knees bleed and they are covered in bruises. If we can be winners in cricket and rugby, we have the spirit to win in football.

  5. Why did England lose? Because they were afraid of getting hurt. They didn’t try to go past their opponents with the ball, they didn’t tackle very hard, and they specialised in passing backwards, which is symptomatic af a risk averse policy. Risk aversion is, of course, the cornerstone of education in this country.
    And what will happen now? Excuses will be invented, and repeated, until even the players believe them. Best one so far: John Terry saying that the team reacted badly to being denied access to their families. John Terry.

  6. Perhaps if England actually competed in all our international competitions that we never win….
    We may have a slight bit more success?
    We invent football are we the best country at football?
    Cricket umm, OK don’t get me wrong but i have a strange feeling that we are not exactly bursting with trophies medals and other shiny things in that particular sport???
    Ok, how about rugby….
    Slightly better but still no Ferrari in the race to win , more so a reliant robin in most cases..
    that when really down and out…..
    we tweak and adjust (temporarily)with nitrous cylinders, in hopes of getting the morale up so our fans still attend the games over seas and our players get paid….

    Cough cough, nudge nudge hey psst!
    I can see a slight (very slight probably nothing)
    hmmmm can you imagine if say…..

    ((((mood music))))
    England… star date round about teatime, guy next doors birthday, captains logged the amount of steak and carbs the England tea have consumed and well, they cant afford it on their wages!

    1966 umm last time we won a cup during a worldwide competition….
    And boys did we win!!!
    1966 we took up our cups and raised our Tetley tea high as the world cup was just about raised into the air …
    Propelled by the hands of the Englishmen!!!
    in the streets anywhere that news could reach we cheered for our football team English victory and most of all for our success over the rest of the world and our sport-induced notch on the bedpost of nearly every Briton that night!
    (well some like the rugby -> oh who am i kidding the 1966 world cup – the reason behind the baby boom nine months – or if the other half’s weren’t all that clued up 8, 7 even 6 months later cough cough OK right….)

    As women cheated men out of the vows they had made in full belief that they would be adhere to by the other half

    (well ones better than nothing and many of course were looking to conceive heirs and took relevant precautions to ensure a male offspring….no…. don’t believe it other plain unfaithfulness!!!)
    For once, this is all actually relevant to whatever point i am attempting to make!!! -> This is an annual event only folks
    well seems ive done better than the whole England team already !
    For free, with no adultery, trophy wives and sobbing my heart out as someone stepped on my toe – till i realize no one is actually looking then get up, very sneakily, holding my injured body part till no one actually remembers who the hell you are anyway but it could be Alan shearer or something long time no see any real footballers on the pitch….

    seen a fair few crybaby’s whinging and whining away like hmmm……………..
    anyone got a good example of some sort of club that is never happy with what they have, a social group or
    socialist collection of …oh…i know!

    So simple too….

    THE LIBERAL ARISTOCRATS or something along those lines??

    continue to do-> they are in the bally big boys chair!
    By the kindness of the big boys as they would not normally get off of the carpet!
    Let alone get to sit on a chair lol
    How many seats after all??
    compared to Umm???


    yet they now aren’t happy as the bigger boys have the slightly bigger chair and now will carry on till they try and make everyone in the country do what they say and if they don’t, give them hell till they give in and let them hand us over to the e.u or whine so much the big boys would rather go and sit on the carpet…..*

    ((with the kids that will be sucking dummies and napping
    while they could be playing with Ummmm..
    … the older children and having a right old time
    planning about one day
    making the Tory’s the
    sole party in Briton….))
    than have to hang about and deal with the infernal racket ((or whack-it or Umm just plain shi…))

    *….human shaped voids of talent cruising round the pitch, giving the ole pelvis indication to lure in real sport fans by displaying how their agility in the bed dept. has absolutely everything to do with why they are so popular with the ladies and so amazingly ….
    crap at anything else…
    Which makes them perfect for the footie team by our standards!!!

    What was the big difference between the 1966 team and whatever bunch of pri-wanna-be-Madonna-look-a likes that …

    Are of course not our football team!
    (did i get away with that??)
    PHEW OK shout more to get the team all geared up ENGLAND WOO
    !!!! WOO even the fans are starting to use the horns more and outwear the claxons and loud speakers and other bits to save their voices for karaoke afterward!

    (i remember leading cheers at 10yrs old at loftus road, sitting in the players lounge afterward and not recognizing the players but having a good inkling they were footballers….)

    The 1966 team were not far healthier and fitter than the current team so…????
    In fact this guys who won the 1966 battle of the balls were;
    so unfit that they would struggle to go around the pitch twice , eating foods like steak before games, food high in carbs to keep energy up etc…..
    So, if the were in fact unfit, to the point that i saw one of the team stand up on television and say that one or two of the guys even coughed up blood after a long match

    (honestly i am being perfectly honest i am not taking the mick, in fact its a compliment , you will see…)

    So unfit,
    umm paid so little that they actually had no option but to have another job to support themselves to play the game.
    god forbid …. shock!!!
    Football a hobby ?
    no? really? oh yes it once was n undesirable job which you had to basically be able to take time off from your job to become a footballer for England!

    So not fitter, paid a lot less , umm, whats the big contributing factor here?

    Could it be when these guys played?
    It was a sacrifice!
    It was a challenge and by god…
    !!!!DID THEY WORK FOR IT!!!!!

    That cup was one by men who played for Britain and against all odds , against Bad health and misguided dietary advise,
    Against financial expenses paid for by themselves!!!

    So That day we won and we won for all the right reasons it was a passion a cause a bally hard thing to do and by Christ they did it!!!

    Now days back in the Tardis to 2010….
    England stars date loads of girls get the top totty and ma-hoosive pay checks for basically just hanging on in there just long enough to get the fans to come to the games, then….

    Well, they could play the 1st half and do a Stip-tease the next if they wanted, fans are in half have no real interest in footie, the teams, how many are actually on a team, who the guy in the funny out fit is the the middle with the wrong kit or why he has a whistle and the rest don’t???
    They are more likely to know the mascot personally and be related to him than be 100% certain of the rules, and even know the whole teams names first and last!
    (ok so the guys there to decorate the bench are just there to keep the girls interest , ones with the good tickets not too far away to score with Annette or pay a score for umm…

    Right the best idea I THINK EVER!!!!

    We approach each footie club in the country and ask then to donate all revenue from the game , that exceeds the costs of running the stadium/maintained, staffing, paying the stewards more than £20 quid per match would be nice also if that isn’t too much to ask…*

    For a full 8-8 days work…. 12hours!!!
    (cough cough cough)
    The guy owning QPR spent nearly 25 …
    on his daughters wedding!
    Stewards are now threatened with
    replacement if they don’t
    work for next to nothing !
    i see a problem here do you??

    *….any how…..*
    Replace the regular fixed wage that exceeds well anything that they could possibly of done in the time spent working to actually earn!!
    Sorry but its true!
    the odd few footballers have real skill talent and would play for nothing as they play for the sake of playing not for an easy career, some of them even still believe in monogamy and would not give in to girls throwing them at themselves as… guess what they have a partner they love and don’t wanna loose, maybe a kid, these guys a lot of this time don’t get on to the field as they don’t ‘look like a football player’ !!!!
    Look ? Id be more than happy to watch a team of monsters run round the pitch and by god id cheer em on, i would even pay to see the game if they were gonna at least give it a go!!!
    Don’t even have to win … just play as hard as possible and try to win not try picking up girls!!!

    Or doing the bare minimum to get paid the most probably don’t even like the game but just happened to be sort of OK and look like or are male models already and can act like they can play and fake a good injury to boot ,
    not to head of course think of the hair!!

    Sorry if i have offended any ‘hardcore’ fans that follow England but i have seen far better games down at Northwood F.C as you need talent to get in!
    Rufus Brevett
    Great player -> QPR
    David seamen _> best goalie ever!
    Umm who did he start off with!

    Once you get past a certain level it becomes a meat market not a place for talent.
    The talented players start off in these clubs like QPR,
    Get cherry picked for amazingly high salaries and then get used to it and start realizing that its not important to win but to be popular good looking and even….
    The chance to cause uproar and expulsions of kids from schools that copy their haircuts against the school uniform
    (cough beck ham cough )
    Then they stop attending the training matches…
    (cough Beckham cough)
    Get their bank accounts so bursting at the seams then move over to America where they can do the least they can possibly do then , turn from football players into football stars!

    So my point is …
    So after the clubs have covered they’re costs and provided each player with a wage based on the going salary for a part time job …. i dunno say what a season (not too good on figures so lets just guess)
    OK a booking clerks salary
    15 of our lovely sterling an hour so say 1 90minute game
    and ummm…
    say 5 2hour training sessions a week umm calculator…
    even 5 sessions a week for 52weeks a year and one game a week is only £25,350.
    So pay them that much if you like …

    Then give the rest to the community and help out the local area make the facilities available for kids to go somewhere, teach them football , for free, on the proceeds!
    Put the money from the local supporters back into the communities, that the fans are living in and do good.

    Then give bonuses on merit per goal like a normal job and we may win find that we start wining every 20years instead?

    Then we have a good source of income battling the the recession and some talented players.
    And a trophy in the cabinet once in a while???

    Cmon has no one thought of this or has everyone just not attempted it due to the amazing amopunt of logic and vast lack of profit involved ….
    I see now…


  7. Mel, maybe it would be a good idea to have prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but also, prizes for endeavour, for people who tried the hardest. Then, even if kids had absolutely no aptitude, if they tried like mad they would win a prize. The teachers could hold these kids up as shining examples. They may come way down the list of winners, but if they strove with might and main, that in itself would be the best and a example of courage.

  8. ok, come on who marked me down can i ask why please?
    Do you not think i have a good idea and if not why?
    Plus what good is paying these major salaries to a under performing team?

    please at least explain why… no?

    englands teams reflect our economy do you not think?
    everyone used to living off the state because they allow them to?
    Can you see the connection?
    How much good could we do with those salaries?
    no, i understand, i am proud to be british but not of our sporting teams.
    Or nhs
    certain things knock my pride but i like being british we just need to pick up our game a bit in all macro-economical areas.

  9. Why did England lose? I blame it on Mr J’s being over there. He’s a jinx, jinx, everything goes wrong. And who told him to don those pair of joke shades, beat me! Mr J only needs to flash his missing front tooth to complete the picture.

    And I also blame it on those vuvuzelas, them horrible things. The civilised English only watch sports in silence, like the Wimbledon Tennis Championships right now. Spectators should be seen and not heard. True civilised English sportsmen can not stand noise while playing. Those bush-people have really ruined it for them.

    ( you can call me a bigoted woman or anything you want Edith but I stand by my comment love )

  10. Edna, I’m concerned about these ‘bush-people’ that exercise you so. Don’t you have bushes in your green and pleasant land? Surely you, too, are a ‘bush-people’?

  11. I have considered leavING a comment (rather than considered TO LEAVE – ahem, where was you educated Mr Mayor?) and here it is, for what it’s worth:-

    Boris, always spot on – and amusing with it (though Gary Linekar’s remark is hard to beat!).

    Twas ever thus, wasn’t it? I stand back and watch, constantly bemused at the antics of the good folk of England. Sporting expectations permanently high (on what basis I have no idea), days off work to watch matches, flags galore, Henman Hill, Murray Mount…the list goes on). Thank God we didn’t waste time having a song this year (apart from Eurovision, of course – and what a stunning success that was, too, from a nation capable of writing some of the best songs ever written – erm, but never for the Eurovision song contest where it seems songwriters collectively lose their minds).

    I couldn’t agree more about the modern day lack of competitive sport in schools singularly adding to the problem. What’s wrong with some healthy competition? It’s a great lesson for life. You reap what you sow. Hard work pays dividends. I am the lone voice at the infant and junior sports days shouting at my children from the sidelines and urging them to ‘come on, you can do it, keep going, don’t look behind you!!’ etc etc etc. And children love winning. There’s nothing wrong with that, unless it’s done ungraciously and arrogantly. They’re never happier than with a medal round their neck. It helps self-esteem, it brings them confidence – all great tools for life.

    But these pampered individuals who call themselves professional footballers – now that’s another story. They get paid so much just to tie their boot laces that it’s not surprising they can’t be bothered with the 90 minutes they’re meant to be running around the pitch doing something meaningful (before losing to the Germans). Where’s the fire in the belly, the incentive to win, to be the best in the squad, to function as a team for England when they are so used to such idolisation and over-remuneration in their self-obsessed everyday life? So they lose. Does it affect them? Course not. They don’t lose their job. They just go back to their home side, their excessively comfortable life and carry on whooping it up. They are classic examples of the ‘me first, me last, me everything’ generation (which, let’s face it, our media simply encourages).

    The French were just as shameful – in fact more so. Selfish primadonnas the lot of them. We are not alone. It is a matter which the FA and FIFA should be looking into, but I fear there’s no going back now. I can’t see the salaries getting smaller, but some sort of incentive system should be introduced (assuming it isn’t already?).

    Alternatively, perhaps we should have selected a younger, more inexperienced squad using players who have performed consistently well for their sides at home. They, at least, would have had something to prove and perhaps a little more passion to perform as a TEAM for their country. Like Slovakia, like Paraguay. I think I need say no more.

  12. Gibb love, in my dry and barren land there are only cacti, spiky Aloes, thorny acacia trees.

  13. The previous mayor made 2 highly risky, but ultimately hugely successful, interventions: the Congestion Charge and the Oystercard.

    I’m hardly the first person to point this out, but it’s impossible to see what the current mayor believes in, other than keeping everybody happy in a rather spineless way. These are wasted years for London, they will not see bold moves like those 2 above.

    The current mayor is big on flowery words, small on a unifying vision.

  14. Oh dear me, I’m not surprised, and plenty of poisonous snakes, too, Edna? no, I mean I dare not call you anything Edna and you know that. Gordon Brown would dare call you that but he has lost his job now, so…

  15. England football, like London, needs strong leadership.

    The previous mayor made 2 highly risky, but ultimately hugely successful, interventions: the Congestion Charge and the Oystercard.

    I’m hardly the first person to point this out, but it’s impossible to see what the current mayor believes in, other than keeping everybody happy in a rather spineless way. These are wasted years for London, they will not see bold moves like those 2 above.

    The current is big on flowery words, small on a unifying vision.

  16. The last mayor was in for two terms. This mayor Boris Johnson is making his views known and has only been in post for is it a year? A bit early to say he “is big on flowery words” and hasn’t intervened. The words are great and I predict a unifying vision and what’s more actions will follow.

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