Tuesday, 26 June 2012


It was such a sad sight, as I climbed off my train at St Pancras yesterday morning. A couple in their thirties, she wiping away his face-painted flag of St George.

The morning after the night before. We hadn't even had the party. Not really. But now we had the hangover (a state, incidentally, characterised by Dorothy Parker as ‘the wrath of grapes’).

England had yet again been knocked out of a major international football competition – on penalties. No-one had indulged many illusions about England’s chances in the European Championship, but such as they were, by yesterday morning they were crushed and bedraggled.

There are still a few cars sporting those flags some people like to jam in their windows, but even they were looking disconsolate. A mildly embarrassing reminder of a celebration that never happened, or even worse was indulged in too soon.

Disconsolate reminder
Like the empty bottles after the party. But there wasn't a party
Of course, I blame the game itself. Two hours it took, to score not a single goal, by either side. How can people sit through such a game? The players rush up to one end of the pitch to achieve nothing; then they tear down to the other end to achieve nothing more. Finally, they decide the outcome on something only marginally superior to the toss of a coin: a penalty shoot-out.

But I’d go even deeper. What is the point of a knock-out competition? I mean, in just plain utilitarian terms, it makes no sense. The greatest good for the greatest number, as good old Jeremy Bentham told us. But a knockout competition does exactly the opposite.

The European Championship finals included sixteen teams. Without even counting those who didn’t qualify, that means that fifteen nations are going to end up disappointed. Just one will emerge triumphant (and unbearable).

Where’s the percentage? With our Camerons and our Merkels, we need cheering up, not demoralising. What we need is the kind of game where everyone wins a prize. So we can say to the Germans ‘you may have won the most matches, but we had the prettiest team coach.’ Salvage a bit of pride. We need it.

Well, at least that competition
s all over for now. For us. Though of course the next disappointment is under way already. Wimbledon. Apart from the rain, we’re going to get the usual failure to break through of the British players. And worst of all, we Englishmen are going to have to get enthusiastic and then despondent about a Scot – the only Brit with even an outside chance of achieving anything.

And then – the Olympics! More silly flags. More face paint. More unrealistic expectations. More shattering disilllusion.

All against a background of the wettest summer since the Ice Age.

Oh joy.


waggledook said...

it's not just Wimbledon and the Olympics that are set to disappoint. A Brit is actually the bookies' favourite to win the tour this year. Imagine that?

David Beeson said...

About time. We more or less invented tourism.