So we lost

If anyone’s not heard yet, the England team lost a football match against Croatia last week, which means England won’t be in the Euro 2008 tournament next year. Boo hoo. The manager (Steve McClaren) resigned the next day. Now they’re hunting round for anyone who will have the job, which nobody seems to. People seemed to be pinning their hopes on José Mourinho, who had already said, months ago, that he did not want to manage England or any national side other than his own (Portugal).

To be honest, I don’t care about football much and the fact that next year there will be nobody sitting screaming in front of the telly at footballers who cannot hear them doesn’t make me lose any sleep. The problem is, though, that the age of big-money football has brought about a Premiership which no longer nurtures native talent. Many of the major Premiership teams rely heavily on imported players, often from countries where football is a route out of the slums. Season ticket prices have been driven up and up, “coincidentally” with the rise in player salaries, making it more difficult for the supporters to regularly see matches; tickets for matches at high-profile clubs cost over £20 (in the case of Premiership clubs, good seats cost much more). (Arsenal, a stone’s throw from the City, is notoriously popular with moneyed City types and their ground is known as the Highbury Library, because they are not exactly boisterous supporters; its tickets are sold to registered supporters only.)

Why is this? Could it be the fact that school playing fields are being sold off and that schools are supposedly placing less emphasis on team sports? Or is it that the traditional working-class support base of the game itself is being shut out of it by high ticket prices? It is not just football, though - the England cricket team is not the best of performers on the international stage, famously only winning the Ashes from Australia in 2005 when it had an Australian coach (and I remember the notorious defeat to the semi-professional Zimbabwe team in the mid-1990s). I would call myself a “by-default” cricket man, meaning that it’s the only major sport I haven’t detested since my school days when both it and football were compulsory, not that I’ve played it in years or that I’ve ever been to the Oval for a game, and like most people, I suspect that I really only think about the game when the team wins or, more commonly, loses a big international match. I think both games need to reconnect with their popular base if the national teams are to become winners again.

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