They think it’s all over? It is now, thank God. I’ve waited for others to vent their spleen over my unfortunate country’s performance on Sunday. At least it was no surprise, and no one said we wuz robbed, because we wuzn’t. Truth to tell, England have never won a European championship or a World Cup except once and then they didn’t deserve to. Nobody who can remember 1966 (as I fear I can) and who has any feeling at all for the game would deny that Brazil were the best team that year.
IN APRIL 1945, there was a parliamentary by-election in Motherwell, a steel town east of Glasgow and a seemingly safe Labour seat. Since the day almost five years earlier when Winston Churchill formed the great all-party government that waged and won the war, there had been a “party truce.” Special elections had been uncontested among the coalition partners (Tory, Labour, and Liberals), though that didn’t stop independents or downright cranks from running—and sometimes winning.
“No one believed in us at the start,” Steven Gerrard said morosely after England beat Ukraine 1-0. Since he mentions it, some of us still don’t believe that England will win this tournament, or that they deserve to, although we’ve already seen that virtue and quality are not always rewarded.
The only good thing I’ve ever heard about Dr. Joseph Goebbels is that he reportedly banned the publication of “overnight notices” in German newspapers, that is, reviews of operas, plays or concerts written immediately after the performance for the next morning’s paper. Most of of us think clearer after we have slept on it, and my instant response to France vs. England three days ago didn’t give the French their due. It was also, if anything, too generous to England.
The late Carwyn James was the greatest rugby coach of his time. In 1971 he led the British Lions on tour to New Zealand, when they became the only Lions team ever to win a series against the mighty All Blacks (as the New Zealanders are known from their uniform). He also gave a phrase to the language. Expecting brutal play from the All Blacks, James told his players beforehand to “Get your retaliation in first.” For an England soccer fan, the great thing is to get your disappointment in first. That’s been true as long as I can remember, but never so true as this year.
“Keep politics out of sport” went the slogan of the old guard back in the days when campaigners tried, successfully in the end, to stop England playing cricket and rugby against apartheid South Africa. But the truth is that politics and sport have been inextricably mixed up since the Roman arena, or since the Blues and the Greens competed in Byzantine Constantinople. Any idea that an international soccer tournament can be staged today without political implications is far-fetched.
ONE YOUNG Englishman was exhilarated by the queen’s Diamond Jubilee, as he had been ten years earlier when the Golden Jubilee had celebrated her first half-century on the throne. Then twelve years old, he had written to his mother: “P.S. Remember the Jubilee,” followed by a series of letters begging to be taken to see the great event. They were signed, “Your loving son Winny.” That Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria, in the summer of 1887, had seen European royalty gather in Westminster Abbey, while across the land, bonfires were lit. In A.E.
When Dr. Tom Walsh decided to start an opera festival in Wexford in 1951, the idea seemed not so much whimsical as absurd. Here was a small town on the far southeast coast of Ireland, not particularly accessible even from Dublin. The Irish had always put their genius into words, not music, and the country had little musical tradition to speak of. But Dr. Tom made it happen. Wexford born and bred, a family doctor and then hospital anesthetist, he was a courteous and charming man, an unostentatiously devout Catholic, and the opera nut to end them all.
With the passing consolations of a royal wedding and a triumph at cricket, England endures a turbulent summer, as riots sweep through the cities, newspapers fulminate, and politicians pontificate. Yes, 1981 seems almost like yesterday—which makes it eerier that history should repeat itself just 30 years on. And repeat is the word. Four nights which saw a wave of looting and pillaging have been followed by two weeks in which the country has been swept by another wave, of blather and bluster driven by hot air. This tsunami of pontification has been as predictable as it was pointless.
When Rupert Murdoch acquired The Times of London and The Sunday Times in 1981, he also acquired a board of “independent national directors”-among them, the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper. Two years later, by way of a shady German tabloid, The Sunday Times bought the rights to a series of newly discovered journals supposedly written by Adolf Hitler. Some of us thought this didn’t so much just smell fishy as reek, coming as it did after a long line of similar forgeries.