The woeful performance of England’s football team left me grinning with pride at rugby and its values as a sport compared with its more common relative.
The fact that a multi-billion pound business can fail disastrously at such an elementary level does not reflect well on the game of football, but it was the spiritless display by the overpaid celebrities, devoid of any pride and determination, that was so disappointing for the nation.
The so-called ‘roller-coaster ride’ over 90 minutes last night merits comparison with England’s Rugby World Cup highs and lows. Phil Vickery and his team were the laughing stock of the rugby world following the 36-0 mauling by the Springboks, but they rose from of oblivion and forced their way through to the final by coming together as a team that was perhaps greater than the sum of its parts.
England’s run to the final was characterised by the refusal of the likes of Martin Corry, Andrew Sheridan, Andy Gomersall and Jonny Wilkinson to fail. They showed fierce passion and courage to haul themselves out of the Pool, and then overcome Australia and France. The nation was behind them, proud of their fighting spirit, teamship and willingness to sacrifice themselves for each other.
Steven Gerrard’s eleven superstars (can you call it a team?) suffered a similar early setback against Croatia by conceding two early goals, and although they levelled the scores in the second half, it was more by luck than any admirable personal qualities in the players. A soft penalty kick-started their comeback and then a good combination of skill from David Beckham and Peter Crouch brought them back into contention.
It was then that they needed to dig deep in their soul and cling on for the draw for just 25 minutes, but alas it looked like they didn’t care enough. If 90,000 people at Wembley and millions watching at home is not enough, then at least show some determination to win for each other.
Indeed, when Scott Carson gifted the opposition that first goal, none of the England players appeared to console him. In rugby, you’d at least get an arm on your shoulder and a slap on the head from the captain encouraging you to fight for redemption. What the 22 year-old would have given last night for Gerrard to say, “Don’t worry, we all make mistakes” or Sol Campbell to offer, “Keep your head up, make up for it in the rest of the game.” But there was nothing but a message of, “You’ve messed up, you’re on your own” and the young goalkeeper made error after error in that first half.
Is this the sort of message we want to be conveying to the country’s youth, via the celebrity icons of the national sport? Would it not be better to get everyone playing rugby, instilling in children the importance of pride, determination and selfless support for one another?
The ramifications of the latest footballing catastrophe will be widespread – or at least they ought to be – but rugby can stand tall and proud of the values inherent with the game while the sport of the masses crumbles around it.
By James Hutchison