So, the whole of England has gone rugby crazy, then. I’m not surprised by this, of course – the English national rugby team have confounded all expectations by reaching the final of the Rugby World Cup. They’re playing particularly flowing rugby (their recent wins against Australia and France were wars of attrition more than anything else), but they seem to have a spirit about them which is lacking from an England football team, who yesterday showed the vast majority of the faults that they have shown over the last few years or so in stumbling to a 3-0 win against Estonia at Wembley.
I’m not a massive rugby fan. I went to a few Saracens matches in the 1980s when they still played at Cockfosters in North London, but I went to a football playing school, and prefer the ebb and flow of football to the stop-start nature of rugby. Last night’s international in Paris unfolded like a piece of theatre, right down to the heart in mouth last few minutes when it felt inevitable that the French would score a try to level things up and win the match with the subsequent conversion. The England rugby team seem to have something of a penchant for this sort of drama. You don’t need me to tell you about the last minute drop kick that won the tournament in 2003, but what is noticeable about them at this tournament is a sheer, stubborn bloody-mindedness that is completely lacking from the England football team.
I’ve probably also mentioned on here that I don’t set a great stock by my Englishness. I consider my country of birth to be an accident of faith, and don’t see that I have much in common with the players of the England football team or a sizeable number of their supporters. I don’t believe that the English are, however, “arrogant” – a claim that is often levelled at us generally. In one of the very posts on here, I argued that the English largely watch their football team from the gaps between the fingers over their eyes, waiting for the inevitable mistake that will cause their downfall. The media, as we all know, often do overcook it sometimes, and there are sections of the press that will always sink to the worst sort of jingoism at times like these (and not just the tabloids – The Daily Telegraph ran a fairly vile piece on Friday on the subject of 50 reasons why we should hate the French) – but this doesn’t, in my experience, represent the views of most English people.
The England rugby team are, from I’ve seen, decent enough men who don’t carry the same burdens of over-expectation that their round ball kicking compatriots do. I’ve always argued that the pressure heaped on the England football team suffer immeasurably from the pressure that is ladled upon them by the media. It doesn’t make them a bad team (as their place in the top ten of FIFA’s rankings would indicate), but it could certainly at least partially for the individual mistakes that have cost them so dearly over the last forty years or so. Whilst the rugby team can, regardless of what happens to them next Sunday, be rightly proud of their performance in the Rugby World Cup this year, the football team seem likely to continue to disappoint for the forseeable future.
Turning to lighter matters, here’s your regular Sunday dose of Baker & Kelly, from the 14th of November 1998. Again, unfortunately, there is a half an hour missing from the evening show.