From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.33 :: NO.23 :: Jun. 10, 2010
There is no point in lying about it. I spent the whole four hours sitting on the couch in my lounge waiting for something to go wrong.
After all that is what happens when England — be it footballers, rugby players of either code or cricketers — compete in the World Cup.
I am ancient enough to remember our footballers losing to the Americans in their first attempt to win the World Cup. The whole nation sobbed into its cuppa tea and there was a concerted move to go for lessons in netball.
On one occasion just before the 1966 World Cup we actually lost the Cup and — I mention with some pride although he is no relation — it was a guy called David Corbett, aided by his dog Pickles who found it again.
There is a happy ending to that story because our footballers — old time gods like Bobby Moore, the captain, Bobby Charlton and his brother Jack, and Geoff Hurst the striker who scored a hat-trick in the final — won it at Wembley under the grumpy eye of Alf Ramsey, an English anti-hero if ever there was one.
Two senior football writers met him soon afterwards. “Brilliant, Alf,” they shouted. “We've won it.”
“And what was your part in this success?” he demanded. “Not very much as I recall.”
There have also been a whole succession of stupidities. There was the time Mike Gatting, one of the most sensible men to captain England, tried a sweep and got out to the first ball from Allan Border, almost a non-bowler; and another time when Wasim Akram killed our tiny remaining hopes in a single unforgettable over.
Paul Gascoigne was more famous for weeping than dribbling in one World Cup, injuries to the toes have been another cause of disruption and to say the gods have not treated any of our men in a kindly way is to risking being mocked for downplaying our bad luck.
Ramsey's heroes did win the World Cup in 1966 but now the commentator's words which summed up the triumph — “they think it's all over — it is now!” — only has the power to make us squirm.
Seven years ago the massive men of Rugby beat Australia by a drop goal in the dying minutes — in their own country never forget — but the main men were either retired or badly hurt immediately afterwards which meant the victory had no lasting impact.
So you will understand that when England came up against Australia in Barbados in the T20 World Cup I could not see them winning, even though I was desperate to celebrate success by Paul Collingwood and Co. and earn myself a few shillings to mark the day.
I went into a bookmaking establishment and discovered my old friends were so confused that the odds were meaner than ever. I tried to consult my favourite stats lady but I could not get a worthwhile opinion out of her.
A friend rang to ask who might win and I told him the omens, auspicious signs and runes were so bad he must forget having a wager on the outcome and concentrate on enjoying the match whoever won.
He explained he was not thinking of trying to back the winner but rather to place a shilling or two on the player who lost the match or which umpire gave the most horrific decision. Anyway, as the world knows, Collingwood led the lads to victory, dropped chances were turned into brilliant successes and you could not have wiped the huge grin off Collingwood's face if you had told him Sunderland, his favourite football team, had been demoted to non-league status and their Stadium of Light ground given over to opera. The umpires performed well too; it was a brilliant day.
A couple of weeks later my suspicion was that the gods were allowing us to win so that they could drop yet another World Cup bombshell into our laps. Days after Colly's cobbers had dodged around the latest dust barrier from Iceland to fly home came the revelation that is likely to ruin England's chances of staging the World Cup in 2018.
A lady of few high principles acquired the undivided attention of one Lord Triesman, who was — unnoticed in the shadow of David Beckham — trying to ensure England's bid for that tournament was successful.
She soon realised that he liked to tell the tale about his knowledge of the inner workings of world sport and the next time they went to dinner she dragged along a tape recorder. Bingo — pay dirt. M'Lord reveals that there are accusations afloat that Russia and Spain are up to no good and as soon as the dinner bill is paid she hurries off to the nearest kiss-and-tell agent and says: “Listen to these little beauties.”
The agent — one Max Clifford, remember the name you will hear it again — promptly sells the tape to a newspaper which prints about half the contents and within 24 hours Lord T has resigned, the bid is ruined and every patriotic Englishman is crying again.
I don't know what they expect, all these goodie goodies who believe a newspaper will find an amazing story and go “Can't us that it might cause trouble.”
Besides, don't they know that whenever an England team gets near success in a World Cup, trouble is just around the corner?
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