England’s tale of woe

Lewis Hamilton ... a disappointing run in the Brazilian Grand Prix.-AP

England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 would be akin to India not making it to the main draw of Asia Cup cricket. Unthinkable, but the eerie prospect does loom over England.

Lewis Hamilton ...

It has been one of the most horrific few days for the lovers of British sport, especially the recent weekend when their Rugby team, the defending champion, lost to South Africa in the World Cup final on October 20. And then the next day, far away in Brazil, Lewis Hamilton, who was expected to win the Formula One title in his debut season, finished seventh at Interlagos, as his close rival Kimi Raikkonen won the race, and with it the Drivers’ Championship. There is an appeal pending with regard to a technicality that could still ensure Hamilton wins the title. The FIA’s International Court of Appeal is set to hear McLaren’s plea on November 15.

If all this was not bad enough, England are now facing an exit from the 2008 Euro Cup football event after suffering defeat against Russia. They have to win their last qualifying game, and still depend upon the other teams to qualify for Euro 2008.

Football is big in England and has a fanatical following, just as cricket commands in India. England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 would be akin to India not making it to the main draw of Asia Cup cricket. Unthinkable, but the eerie prospect does loom over England, and it will probably decide the fate of their coach Steve McClaren.

Football players are big stars in England, and though perhaps not as big as cricketers are in India, there is a fair amount of media attention on them.

The English footballers are the talking points at most events, and in such a situation, like the Indian cricketers, they get blamed for having a flashy lifestyle as it is feared that it will distract them. They are fair game for anybody who follows the sport even superficially, and so are on a hiding to nothing.

This was evident last year after their defeat in the football World Cup, when everybody and his pet animal had a go at the England team for being rich, lazy, spoilt and without talent. The morning after their loss to Portugal, the chauffeur who picked me up at Heathrow and learnt that I was going to Lord’s for a cricket meeting paid rich compliments to the English cricket team and denounced the football players as being just good club players and not good internationals. He also questioned the standard of the English Premiership, saying the Italian league was better with more world-class players and thus far more competitive.

Though I do follow football, my knowledge of the standards around the world is pretty limited, and so I won’t get into any argument about which league is better — the English Premiership or the Italian, or for that matter the German or the Spanish league. But it did occur to me that the English players are far more concerned about their club than country, given the statements that came out immediately after England’s defeat.

There was Steven Gerrard, who missed a penalty, screaming away in the papers that if he were Wayne Rooney, he would welcome Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United with a punch on his face after what transpired in the England versus Portugal game. Remember Rooney was sent off after a foul on Ronaldo, who was caught by the TV cameras winking at his Portugal team-mates after the referee flashed the red card?

Whatever the merits of that decision by the referee, it seemed that Gerrard was more keen to ensure that his club, Liverpool, would benefit by creating a rift in the terrific Manchester United combo of Rooney and Ronaldo.

Creating a rivalry in a team is an old tactic, and to a great extent the media contributes to it by making up a rivalry where none exists. While it is totally understandable when the media of another country tries to create divisions within the opposition team, it is hard to understand when the media of a country does that to its own team, rather than help prevent a minor misunderstanding blowing up into a big controversy.

Just before the British Grand Prix, there were a number of articles on Hamilton, and how he had taken the world of motorsport by storm. This is absolutely true and great for the sport, but there were some cloying articles that made you want to retch. One Sunday magazine even had the audacity to say that Michael Schumacher should thank his stars that he retired when he did, else he would have been run off the track by Hamilton. Of course, Schumacher had won a small matter of seven World Championships. The article went on to say that Hamilton plays golf to relax and unwind, and so Tiger Woods better watch out! Would you believe that?

One can understand that the young man had captured the imagination of the British sporting public. But it is articles such as this one that will have people hoping that he won’t win a title soon, for if that was the hype when the season was only halfway through, then just imagine the tripe one would have had to read if he had actually won the title.

Probably Hamilton himself is a very nice young man, but he would be better off without such silly supporters.