Guest-written by Ollie Orton
As the summer draws to an all too soon close, we, as British people can reflect upon the glories of a summer that will live long in the memory. Bradley Wiggins in yellow in Paris, breaking the tradition that a British man can never win the Tour de France, Andy Murray finally claiming that elusive slam and of course what has now been christened the ‘Golden Summer of Sport’, where Britain scooped 29 gold medals in one Olympic Games. With the Ryder Cup still to come, it appears that one final swansong could be on offer before we enter the relative tedium of autumn. However, it seems that one sport decided not to join the party, instead resting on its laurels of mediocrity and at times mind-numbing stupidity.
Football has always been my sport of choice; I have flirted with rugby and courted cricket but I ultimately return to 22 men chasing around a small ball. This summer, I felt something change. Before the splendour of this summer truly began, I watched the England team fall once more at the quarter-final stage of an international tournament. Despite the obvious disgust, I vowed to stick with them (at least until Rio 2014). The gormless replies in press conferences and hap-hazard passing was once again ignored, and the majesty of Wonder Woy Hodgson was highlighted, presumably because the press had nothing else to highlight anymore due to the woeful defensive set-up preferred by the aforementioned Hodgson. The Premier League season was less than 2 months away; the time would fly and before I knew it we would be back on the treadmill.
Then, out of the blue, something changed.
Almost from nowhere, Bradley Wiggins won the hardest cycling challenge in the world, the epic Tour de France. This triumph was all the more impressive because it was achieved by the British cycling team, Team Sky; Britain used to be the laughing stock of the cycling world. Furthermore, Team Sky had not just met a target but beaten it, achieving the victory in 3 years when 5 had been allocated. Can you imagine an England football team achieving anything, let alone setting and beating a difficult target? Wiggins showed a sense of humour, immense courage and a stomach for a fight in his triumph; England showed absurdity and senselessness in their demise. Wiggins was everything that the English football team was not.
The brief interlude of achievement was preceded by the annual disappointment at Wimbledon (similarities between the English football team were duly noted). However, to reach a final was a success for Angry Andy Murray, and many were saying that it was something to build upon. I was just hoping that we would have some credible candidates for Sports Personality of the Year at this point, remembering with a shudder Ryan Giggs winning the award in 2009.
When the Olympics duly came around, the nation was united in their unconvinced tone as to whether the country would actually pull off hosting the greatest show on Earth. Despite my obvious pessimism in regards to British sport, I genuinely believed that Britain would dazzle the world, and not just through the new stadiums and smooth tube networks – and dazzle they did. Triumph in the velodrome, conquest in the Olympic Stadium and success in the boat. And all of this achieved by ‘normal people’, not multi-millionaires who sit around all week before not doing what they are paid such an enormous amount to do on Saturdays (kick a football). The humility displayed by the athletes was such a breath of fresh air, and as many people say, fresh air does indeed clear the mind. It was at this point that I seriously asked myself: why do I love football so?
The final straw for me was Andy Murray winning a slam for the first time in his tennis career. A moment of true sporting achievement was immediately overshadowed by the ‘major’ news story that Peter Crouch was in “international exile”. Why did this deserve to claim such high-profile status, while Murray already drifted down the pecking order of sports news? Then, to cap it all off, Liverpool youngster Raheem Sterling (17) was picked to play for England. Not England U21’s. Full on England, with Lampard, Gerrard and the rest. My support was broken. Elite sport should be exactly that: elite! Can you imagine someone being drafted in to the Olympics, or to cycle in the Tour de France, after making the equivalent of 5 Premier League appearances? Of course not, it would not happen. The usual murmurings were released, mainly about ‘Experience being gained’ and ‘how it can’t be detrimental’. This was all irrelevant; England had proven to me at long last that they do not warrant such a high profile status; instead it should be perceived as a crèche for professional footballers who will be hyped up when young before drifting into the wilderness (previous members include Jermaine Pennant and even Adam Johnson). Was Jessica Ennis brought along for the ride? Was Mo Farah given time to “Experience the British set-up”? They were not, primarily because British Olympics is focused on sport and achievement, rather than whatever England football decides to focus on this week.
Although many will, I cannot see a successful future for English football at present. Whilst Britain flourishes at other sports, football must take a back-seat. Only then may we be able to bring the basics back to English football, and build a team around leadership, raw talent and teamwork rather than the current incoherent, egotistical air-heads that populate the British game at present.