Now, allow me to tell you why England came a cropper
Twenty million England football fans unpeeled themselves from the sofa and picked up the shattered remnants of the beer bottle they hurled at the wall in the 66th minute – when Mueller scored Germany’s third goal. With a heavy heart and a distended liver we all went on to the patio or the garden or whatever open space was available and stared with despairing eyes at the beautiful blue sky of one of the most perfect summer afternoons this country has ever seen. And together, like coyotes, we whimpered a single pathetic question in the general direction of the Almighty. Why?
Why does it always end like this? Why is it that our national team has once again vindicated the aphorism of Gary Lineker, that football is a game in which 22 men run around for 90 minutes – and then the Germans win? Why do we once again have to endure the post-mortems of the football sage Alan Hansen? It is always easy to distinguish between the great Mr Hansen and a ray of sunshine, but yesterday he certainly let England have it in the neck. “They were hopeless from start to finish,” he pronounced. “I don’t think I have ever seen a more inept performance.”
“It was a shambles,” said someone else, possibly Alan Shearer, and no one disagreed. In other papers less restrained than this one, there will today be a ritual orgy of national self-loathing, in which poor Fabio Capello and everyone associated with the England World Cup campaign will be fire-hosed with liquid ordure delivered with all the pent-up and primeval fury of an exploding undersea oil leak. Many commonsensical people will avert their eyes from this spectacle. They will find it vulgar and savage. They will try to argue that it is only a game, and that we should not mind losing to the Germans.
I am afraid they are wrong, or at least over-optimistic about our national temperament. For better or worse, this World Cup is international voodoo, and these 11 men stand for us all. They are anthropologically freighted with the weight of our expectations. So much of our national confidence, so much of our national pride, depends on the exact oscillation set up by the collision between Stephen Gerrard’s instep and a Jabulani ball.
All the evidence is that if England had won, the country’s glands would have collectively emitted great joyous jets of serotonin. Sterling would have soared. The Footsie would have leapt like a salmon in the mating season. Britain would have accelerated its climb out of recession; and instead we have the match you saw.
We managed to pull off the biggest ever defeat in the World Cup finals. We weren’t robbed. We were thrashed. As England return, it is obviously important that someone should say something in defence – or at least in explanation – of their performance. And since I am one of the few Telegraph columnists actually to have played for England against Germany (at the Madejski stadium in 2006) and can therefore claim to understand the huge pressures of this particular derby, I feel that function falls to me.
Some people will, of course, follow Fabio Capello in drawing attention to Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal. They will say it was a disgrace, and they will be right, but I am afraid their point would have more force if we had lost 2-1. You can’t blame the absence of an electronic touch-judge when the score is 4-1.
The problem wasn’t the lack of an electronic gizmo; the problem lay with the men on the pitch. Some will say it was all to do with Wayne Rooney and his curious listlessness, as though he was literally bowed by the burden of national hopes. Some will say it was all to do with the dressing-room mutiny allegedly led by John Terry, and others that it was bonkers to play Emile Heskey in the dying few minutes, and that we should have brought on Crouch.
More thoughtful analysts may say that actually those Germans weren’t half bad, with an array of Polish-German and Turkish-German talent that should serve as an impressive advertisement for managed immigration from eastern Europe.
But I think it goes deeper than that. To understand why we lost so badly, we need to look at the background field of causation. There is a reason why Germany have succeeded in getting through to the quarter-finals since 1938 and why England have so often failed. I had an insight, an omen, yesterday morning. I got up early to play tennis, at a municipal court. It is a lovely place, an oasis of green, in a densely populated area not far from London; and since I had failed to book I fully expected to be kicked off by 8am. Well, by 9am the courts were still deserted and we played blissfully on. It wasn’t until almost 10am – on one of the most glorious days of the year, a day when the whole of nature seems to shout that it’s time for tennis – that we were joined on the courts. A nice middle-aged couple turned up and began patting it to each other, and I thought, by heaven, what is wrong with us? Where is the get-up-and-go of our kids?
If this was Germany, they would have been out bagging the courts since dawn! Somewhere along the line the nation that invented or codified virtually every sport seems to have lost its lust for competitive games. I don’t want to exaggerate this. We did amazingly at the 2008 Olympics, and we have recently beaten Australia at rugby. But in our game, the world game, we should be doing so much better.
I am sure the problem is partly to do with all those foreign players in the Premiership, but it’s more fundamental than that. We are still paying the price of an educational establishment that developed an aversion to competitive games and an obsession with bureaucracy and elf and safety that made it hard for the voluntary sector to fill the gap.
But let’s look on the bright side. We have a new government that should be able to change that, and at least it didn’t go to penalties.