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Up and down, up and down

Although not part of the Olympic cycle, the summer of 2019 has already provided a positive glut of sporting excellence and entertainment and there is plenty more to come, not least the commencement of the 2019/2020 Premier League season and the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

I cannot personally claim to be an expert or particular fan of any sport but overnight I had a thought or two about a couple of stories currently dominating the headlines.

In the British Isles, of course – probably like most countries, actually – we seem to enjoy a masochistic relationship with our national teams.

In England’s case, even 21st Century football suffers from the long shadow cast by the 1966 World Cup victory, simply because that’s the only time we’ve won the bally thing.

Our historic tradition involves far too many uninspiring performances in friendly matches followed by hysterical hype and expectation in the build up to major tournaments (as “Our Boys” go off in quasi-stirring Spitfire/Hurricane ‘Battle of Britain’ mode to engage with the dastardly Jonny Foreigner enemy) and then the hackneyed too-frequent-to-be-believable ‘bad luck’ excuses such as dodgy refereeing or VAR decisions; endless Dagos ‘diving’ in the box and elsewhere to get our stout defenders yellow-carded or worse; and then, of course – inevitably – the always-reliable backstop of an ignominious exit via a penalty shoot-out.

I shall dwell no further upon the long-suffering fate of England football supporters save to mention that they are not alone.

Our North of the Border neighbours can do ‘disappointment’ upon another level altogether.

I need only mention Scotland’s laughably inept 1978 World Cup campaign under super-confident but deluded Ally MacLeod to make my point.

Nevertheless the football ‘matter of the moment’ upon which I wished to comment today is the £80 million transfer of Harry Maguire from Leicester City to Manchester United – and, as hinted above, I do so from an inexpert viewpoint without fear, taking as I do the attitude that an “never give an opinion upon something you know nothing about” approach is for wimps.

I have never had a problem giving an opinion on something I know nothing about!

It’s when you have a little knowledge about something that the problems begin.

I have two issues with the Harry Maguire transfer. The first is the size of the money involved – £80 million, apparently a world record for a defender, is a lot to pay for anyone … whether a footballer, a defender but certainly for Harry Mcguire in particular.

Currently there is a lot of media chatter doing the rounds about Mcguire’s calm maturity (is he possibly future captain material?) and what he will bring to United’s Premier League campaign.

I’m afraid that on all the evidence I have seen so far – all of it on television – it isn’t going to be much.

Mcguire is a pretty limited and pedestrian player. Without wishing to comment ill of the sadly departed, for me the player he often most resembles in this respect is another former United player Ray Wilkins (also of Chelsea and other notable clubs and England) who from about the age of 23 made an entire career of passing sideways and backwards at just above walking pace.

That’s all I wished to say on the subject and I’ll be only too happy to eat humble pie if and when I am proved wrong.

Secondly, on the matter of England’s Ashes Test match defeat at Edgbaston yesterday on the fifth day of a well-attended and fascinating contest.

As a non-fanatic cricket and England fan I enjoyed the coverage of the match, for a large proportion of which the result could have gone either way (or rather, one of all three ways).

The UK sports media has a reputation for a feast and famine approach, i.e. huge building-up of the nation’s chances in anticipation, lionising of individual players on the way up – and then mountain-sized post-mortems and the calling of heads to roll when fortunes go belly-up, as they often do with England.

With the England cricket team – more so that even with its footballing equivalent – loyal fans are constantly waiting, even in a game in which early successes are achieved, for that hardy staple of national cricketing fortune, the spectacular batting collapse. I’d go so far as to suggest that it is actually disappointing when a match goes by without one.

Yesterday’s 251 run defeat has been treated with due hysteria by Fleet Street’s finest. It’s all to do with the players’ reaction to winning the ODI World Cup, lack of preparation, stupidity (the decision to pick the barely-fit Jimmy Anderson) and general ineptness from top to bottom.

Feast and famine. Building them up and then culling the tallest poppies. You know the rest …

For me, it was an excellent Test match, irrespective of who won. It could so easily have ended in a draw. It didn’t, but let’s credit Australia for winning – not slag off our players.

Unless of course, the media game is going to plan. An England win at Lords next time can be hailed as a great comeback and another defeat as an excuse to pile in with ever-more strident demands that “Something must be done!”

A win-win for our journos really, either way.

About J S Bird

A retired academic, Jeremy will contribute article on subjects that attract his interest. More Posts