Happy and Inglorious: Nation of Sore Losers

In their outstanding book ‘Soccernomics’, Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski discuss at length England’s journeys through major international Football cups and the distinct absence of success. They have analysed how the narrative of events told by the English develops before, during and after the tournament. Kuper and Szymanski claim the English & their attitudes follow a pattern during international Football tournaments:

  1. Complete pre-tournament conviction that England will win.

  2. After coming through the group stages, England is drawn against a former wartime foe.

  3. One incident of ‘misfortune’ during the game is picked up on.

  4. As the game continues, England becomes increasingly convinced of cheating amongst the opponents.

  5. England are eliminated from the tournament well before the final.

  6. One specific person is chosen to blame for England not having won the tournament outright (the most important and hypocritical point).

  7. The country and its inhabitants quickly return to normal life.

  8. The Football Association concludes that England should focus on the future and develop youth talent, and the focus (and pattern) turns to the next major competition.

As the competition gets closer, the nation gets increasingly caught up in hysteria surrounding the notion that ‘this will be our year’. Stats and recent performances of England give no reason to suspect that England will walk the tournament, but it matters little. As the tournament progresses, England plays as expected and gets through the group stages unceremoniously. They then arrive at the knock-out stages and England comes against an old enemy. This has often been Germany and Argentina, but given the extent of military campaigns Britain has embarked upon in its history, any developed nation at this point is likely to be an appropriate villain, driven by hatred of ‘Britain’s Superiority’. During the game, Maradona handballs a goal / Beckham is sent off / Ronaldo taunts Rooney / the Swiss ref disallows Lampard’s obvious goal. The hypocritical and vile temperament of the English sets in, and as they are knocked out, they refuse to accept it as a fair contest. The manager is sacked, the press do what they must and the whole country agrees that if that one moment had not occurred, England would have become champions.

It is phenomenally convenient. The English maintain their sense of entitlement and pride over other ‘lesser’ nations, but do not have to face the process of proving Footballing superiority in the later, and arguably tougher, stages. If you’re not a native Brit then this storyline may be news to you. But if you are from the UK, just have a think about this and wait to see what the tabloids say….


Note: this post simply would not be without the brilliant works of Kuper & Szymanski in their book ‘Soccernomics’.
Kuper, Simon, and Szymanski, Stefan. Soccernomics. HarperCollins, London, 2012

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