Pardon for me for saying it, but in recent weeks – and maybe I should be blaming personal reasons or preoccupations for this – I have found myself significantly underwhelmed so far by some of the most iconic sporting events of 2018.
I watched little of the FIFA World Cup – just passages of four England games, mere snatches of other matches and nothing at all of the final itself yesterday during which probably the classiest team in the tournament duly annexed the Jules Rimet trophy by beating Croatia – England’s nemesis – by a 4-2 margin.
Nevertheless, because of the near blanket coverage in the British media, like everyone else I was exposed to all the hype of the hectic England turnaround from the waving off of our plucky no-hopers at the airport … to “Good God, they might survive the group stage …” … to the full-on Southgate waistcoat, ‘Gareth for a knighthood’, ‘Our boys are on a mission’, “It’s coming home, it’s coming home …” and then the certainty of our prospective first Word Cup win since 1966 and ‘Nothing can stop us now!’ collective madness … before the inevitable limp collapse of our hot-air-filled balloon like a used condom long before the final knockings.
Now in the aftermath – for all Gareth Southgate’s modesty and the supposed reality-checks that occasional leaven the media merry-go-round – we are still being spoon fed the spectacle of endless pundits, journos and well known ex-players queueing up to demand that the authorities ‘must not now waste the huge advances our youthful squad have made’.
To my mind, all of this comes straight from Central Casting and the British traditional summer media “silly season”.
The fact, from my perspective, is that yet another – yes, albeit young this time – averagely-talented England football squad went off to yet another major tournament and to all intents and purposes did no better and no worse than was only to be expected.
We don’t have any truly world class players – and those of proven quality like Harry Kane showed but glimpses of incisive killer instincts.
Our midfield was uninspired and totally lacked creativity.
I had been a bit of a fan of Dele Ali before the tournament and was hoping/expecting him to announce his arrival on the international stage in Russia, and yet in the actualité (slight injury or not), apart from one well-taken headed goal, he contributed little more than the sort of short-passing ticky-tacky, often in a sideways or backward direction, ineffectual passes that advance nothing and also (to be frank) can be seen on every one of Hackney Marsh’s 16 municipal pitches most Sundays afternoons in Under-14 matches.
Or indeed in any showreel of Butch Wilkins’ greatest on-field moments.
Raheem Sterling was anonymous.
There was not a playmaker to be seen.
As defenders Maguire and Stones were but honest plodders.
Frankly, apart from during the only-to-be-expected thrashing of Panama, England were pretty leaden and ponderous in every match.
The idea that Southgate’s 2018 England squad is the basis for a world-beating colossus at any time in the near future (i.e my life span) is a fatuous fantasy.
I don’t count doubles of whatever gender-mix, or the boys and girls events, or indeed the wheelchair versions as worthy of comment: the Men’s and Women’s singles are the only events that all that count.
These were both sub-standard compared with the classic years of yore – if you don’t believe me now, you will in five or six years’ time when and if you have cause to look or think back.
The women’s game is in the doldrums because there are so few personalities and – as in the late Eighties and early Nineties – a preponderance of highly-fit, well-trained, robotic automatons. As far as I could tell a majority of matches before the semi-final stage were over in three heartbeats – I do hope the ladies taking part spent their sizeable cheques wisely.
Players turned up and ‘gave their all’.
So did spectators.
Even the weather was hot and the purveyors of strawberries & cream, Pimm’s Number 1 and cucumber sandwiches must have done a roaring trade.
But overall, sadly, everyone referred to above was just going through the motions. Real epic matches were few and far between, although (to be fair) both semi-finals definitely had their moments.
Let’s hope this week’s forthcoming Open golf championship at Carnoustie, probably the most famous and exciting course I have played and lost a shedload of balls upon, can offer some more worthy and edifying fare.