Turnips

England lost again this morning, and it now looks likely that they’ll finish early in yet another World Cup. Who really expects anything different? Certainly not the English.

There’s doubtless many technical reasons that England under-achieve again and again, and the truth is there are always better, more talented teams than them in the competition. Still, they’re better than their early exits would suggest. They should be competitive at least with their peers, and ruthless with the teams beneath them. There’s no real excuse for them getting knocked out in the first round of the World Cup.

Despite this it’s no surprise. This is the script that English teams in general tend to follow. Come the critical moment they fail. It’s hard for me not to think of them as a bunch of softcocks. Victory is all about being there when the critical moment comes, and seizing it. The greats do it more often than not, the mediocre hardly ever.

I had a conversation with a follower of theirs this morning. Why would you follow a team that even its own country is embarrassed by? Why not follow the Socceroos instead, a lesser team on paper, but at least a team that gives you value for money?

It got me thinking about why England under-achieve while other teams give cause for pride. The simple answer is commitment, and perhaps temperament – but lets put that to one side for now.

I don’t doubt that every English player who sets foot on the pitch passionately desires to win the World Cup – but what are they willing to sacrifice for it?

I think there’s an argument that English football players are spoiled, and live in a bubble. I guess you could say that about many, but there seems less humility in the EPL than in other competitions. With that, I think, there comes a degree of selfishness. Teams like the Socceroos come together and bond as a team with fervour; England appears more so a collection of players with little tying them together.

There is cultural narrative to, if not tradition. They get excited sometimes, but I generally think the English expect to be disappointed, regardless of sport. Listen to English sportsmen and you hear different things than you would from his Australian counterpart, and from many other parts of the world.

Perhaps I find England so hard to stomach because they are the antithesis of everything as an Australian I was brought up to believe in. Australia goes into matches expecting to win, and at the very least giving it a red hot go. Across the sporting spectrum we have been amazingly successful at achieving that, and when we don’t it’s rare that we come away thinking we could have tried harder. We’re not successful because we’re super athletes, but because we have a super attitude.

Listen to an Australian athlete and that’s referenced in their conversation. They believe in Aussie grit. It’s something they’re proud of, and a standard they’re proud to uphold. It makes them strong. They come together as representatives of Australia and submit themselves to all that means – and so they work harder, they bend themselves to the team ethos, and when they take the field they are focussed on team success. And from this comes confidence, and innate aggression – they want to go forward, they believe in victory.

Now I’m speaking as an Australian about Australians, but what I write of them is true of many others also – in different ways perhaps, perhaps in quieter, less robust ways, but that grit and determination and willingness to sacrifice for each other is not unique to Australia. It’s seemingly foreign to England though.

England have some very good players, but are off the top-level technically (but much closer to it than Oz). That’s something they can work on, but also something they can overcome with the right attitude. That’s what they need to change between now and the next world cup. They need to turn around the national ethos, their belief systems and attitude. The question is if this is possible if it’s true that the English team is a reflection of English culture.

Maybe they should just accept being also-rans. But if not, it’s time to quit the coddling.

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