by Ed West
Tuesday, 13
July 2021
Debate
07:00

What would victory have meant for England? Very little

Sporting wins rarely — if at all — portend a golden age
by Ed West
A dark day. Credit: Getty

If you’re still feeling sad, it’s probably because your testosterone level dropped by up to 20% following Sunday’s defeat.

Oh well. If there’s any consolation to be had, at least we have been spared The Discourse that tends to greet sporting victory. How this will change everything.

Back in 1998 there was huge amount of such commentary after France won the World Cup at home. Les Bleus were the first great multi-racial national team in Europe, and the World Cup winning side had players from a variety of backgrounds, from the Norman Emmanuel Petit, clearly a descendent of Rollo, to stars of Caribbean, Maghrebi and black African descent, the team of Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Marcel Desailly.

A thousand think pieces followed, about how this was going to bring together a troubled, divided nation in which racial tension was a serious problem. Football had healed the country’s wounds.

Four years later, Jean-Marie Le Pen made it through to the second round of the presidential election for the first time, in a historic breakthrough for the far-Right.

Yet because no one ever learns anything in journalism, there was renewed optimism in 2018 when France won the World Cup for a second time. The country was united, there was joyful euphoria in the streets, old enmity forgotten. Within four years, 20 retired generals were warning that the country was heading towards civil war, a fear shared by the majority of the population.

Football is by far the best sport on earth, and only deviants think otherwise. It can bring great joy to us as individuals, but victory makes very little difference to a country. It says nothing really of national greatness, although leaders like to bathe in its glory.

Argentinians might have thought their time had come after their first World Cup win in 1978, followed by a second eight years later. Yet in 1982 the country was humiliated, the regime was toppled, and it has since endured a further four decades of crisis and failure, a basket case. In this their story is not dissimilar to Brazil, which two years after its 1962 triumph saw a coup that led to 20 years of dictatorship. Greece won the Euros in 2004, and then famously enjoyed a decade of untrammelled economic might. As for Italy, who knows what exciting future fate has in store?

Some football victories do seem to represent something wider; England’s World Cup win is associated with London’s 1960s renaissance, while West Germany’s win in 1954 symbolised the country’s rebirth from the ashes, and its 1990 victory came amid reunion.

There is evidence, from Africa, that national football success does make people more trusting of other ethnic groups, genuinely helping to build a national identity, while national teams can temporarily unite a divided country, like Italy.

But not for long, and sporting victories don’t portend a golden age.

It’s not just football. For a certain type of British commentator the opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympics represents the historic high point of our civilisation. It was a great show, well-written, exciting and funny, and I enjoyed it. But to some people it symbolises some significant moment in global liberalism, and the coming of a certain idea of Britain, a progressive patriotism in which the whole country reflected their own values.

Two years after that Olympic moment, which people still get weepy over, Ukip became the largest British party in the European Parliament; another two years and Britain voted for Brexit. It didn’t really mean anything in the end.

Join the discussion


  • Football Rugby is by far the best sport on earth, and only deviants fools think otherwise.
    Personally, I much prefer Rugby to Football – though there’s little to be gained by trying to convert a fan of one sport to the other.
    BUT, there is a lesson from Rugby that could/should be learned across all comments pages like these.
    One of the great joys of Rugby – something surely that can be celebrated even by people who don’t follow the game – is that opposing side’s fans all sit together. There is never crowd trouble – they’ll be some good natured joshing, for sure, but never any trouble.
    Whether it is lower league Rugby, through to a top-of-the-table clash between premier sides, or even a bitterly fought international match, the fans sit together, drink and sing together and – as often as not – a fan of the losing side will congratulate a winning supporter on their success at the end of it.
    My younger son’s first experience of a live game (several years ago now) was taking him to Wasps v Harlequins at the Stoop on his 5th birthday. I was a lone Wasps fan sat in a crowd of Quins, and Wasps were on the wrong side of a hiding. All the guys around us were telling my son that he shouldn’t follow his Dad’s team as they were clearly second best and should instead become a Quins fan. We were all chatting and laughing and they found out it was my son’s birthday.
    As we took our seats again after half-time, a group of total strangers had been to the Club shop and bought him a Quins shirt, a Quins hat and a Quins flag. By the end of the match he was standing on his seat singing “The Mighty Quin” whilst I was being teased about my son now being a cuckoo in the nest.
    He is, I’m afraid to say, an ardent Harlequins fan to this day.
    That is one of the (many) reasons I love Rugby.
    It should be perfectly possible for people who passionately support one side of an argument to be able to respect people who passionately believe in the other side. We can believe the other is misguided and wrong, but there is no need to insist that they must therefore be evil! There is much too much of that in evidence in political debate over the last several years and, at a guess, such attitudes have never yet convinced anyone to change their mind.

  • It’s also one of the reasons there’s very little atmosphere at rugby grounds. Whilst I can watch rugby, internationals anyway, being at the game is a soulless experience. Give me footballs tribalism any day of the week, even if it does go too far now and again

  • Hear, hear. All this hysteria and cant over football! As if it means anything beyond a transient, drunken five minutes of mob sentimentality. And people imagine that this creates “togetherness” or “community” or the triumph of the “rainbow”! Was ever there a more blatant instance of wishful thinking? Authentic identities can never be shaken permanently into this momentary vinaigrette of TV “solidarity” – why do they think it so difficult to erase “racism” from supporting a team? Rangers and Celtic, anyone? Like all bullying sentimentalists, our increasingly totalitarian bosses have fallen for their own piffling lies; but even as they shed their slimy tears of joy, like Stalin weeping into his vodka, they double and double down and down on the forcing press of “multi-culture”.

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