The World Cup has captivated the attention of millions of people all over the world this last month, and the finals are coming up in little more than a week.
Reason enough to take a look at the different countries’ reactions to their national team’s defeat. Do the French despair the same way as the English when watching their team lose? And what about the Spanish? Or the Dutch? This article by Tom de Castella (BBC News Magazine) sums up these different reactions nicely…
“Hysterical, deluded and thoroughly English”
England has exited the football World Cup and once again failed to live up to expectations. But why do the English fool themselves, again and again, into believing they can win, and might they actually enjoy it?
After a humiliating 4-1 defeat to Germany, England has once again entered an unofficial period of national mourning. It’s something the country goes through after every World Cup or European Championship exit – from euphoric anticipation to shock and despair in the space of 90 minutes.
Harry Eyres, writer of the Financial Times’s Slow Lane column, believes the passion has taken on a desperate, obsessive quality: “Too much seems to hang on it. We appear needy as a nation. There’s an extraordinarily neurotic fear and excessive expectation about watching England. I don’t think we’re in touch with reality.”
The world is entranced by the beautiful game every four years. But not everyone seems to invest as much importance in their national side.
On holiday in Spain during the 2002 World Cup, Eyres remembers pulling into a bar in Andalucia to catch the end of the Spanish team’s quarter final with South Korea. The talented Spanish side went on to lose but there was no vitriol, Eyres recalls: “It was amazing how lightly they took it. This was a working class, blue collar bar. Can you imagine a pub full of builders in England when the team get knocked out – it would be a tragedy. My impression is that in Spain it just doesn’t matter so much.”
Writer Simon Kuper sees a similar imbalance of expectation when England is compared with France, where he lives. If the English did badly in this competition, the French – finalists in the last World Cup – did even worse, getting knocked out in the first round.
But in France, says Kuper, author of Why England Lose, no-one thought the home side would actually win. What enraged the French public was not poor displays on the pitch but the mutinous behaviour of the team’s arrogant stars.
“Unlike the English the French are able to switch off the team when they’re angry with it. People are disgusted. But they don’t go into the anguish of looking at the country as a whole. They just say the team are horrible people.”
Not only do the English never learn. They appear to thrive on the masochism of outlandish hope followed by tragic defeat, he argues.
“I think people enjoy the ritual. Every four years it happens and takes you back to previous tournaments. It’s a communal moment, people sharing the pain with each other at the bus stop. It’s that thing about big World Cup games that end in tragedy – usually on penalties, ideally to Germany.”
But that ritual comes at a price, says Kuper, who sees a crucial difference between the attitude of the English side and that of his native Holland.
“When a Dutch player scores he’s happy but when an England player does it’s all clenched jaw, relief and anger. It’s very stressful for the England players. It’s like with children at school, when they know the expectations are too high and they can’t meet them.”
But if England is deceiving itself about its ability, who or what is guilty of inflating expectations unrealistically high?
“The papers set the agenda. And today we have feeding frenzies. Savage as it sounds the Madeleine McCann story sold papers and previously there was Princess Diana. The World Cup is another first class example of a feeding frenzy that electrifies the newspapers.”
What this frenzy is really about is fear of national decline, says the writer and broadcaster Toby Young: “In a sense it’s people’s anxiety about Britain’s waning influence on the international stage. It expresses itself in their anxiety about how England will fare in the World Cup.”
And that’s why beating Germany has become so important. It’s the ability of the German team to punch above its weight in football terms. And that seems to us to reflect their ability to punch above their weight economically.”
For the full article, click here.