Hoping against hope

The great British sporting public has been searching for heroes from time immemorial. Will the search ever end? The dawn of July only brought yet another round of disappointment. Over to Ted Corbett.

We — that is the great British sporting public — spent the beginning of this month searching for heroes. We don't crave sympathy but we are still looking. I don't know what else we expected.

That search has continued ever since I was born and to tell the truth it often ends in sorrow. Take Wimbledon for instance. (Everyone else has, you might as well have your turn.) Since Fred Perry won there just before the Second World War it has been a shame on our tennis players who have had many opportunities to win it and never succeeded.

Disappointing, isn't it.

There — I've written it. I detest “disappointing”, one of the weasel words people trot out to excuse their worst moments. Managers facing relegation are apt to say “I am disappointed we are in such a difficult situation” — they love “situations” because they don't have to think of a more appropriate word — “but I worked out recently that if we win 10 of our last 11 games we might escape.”

As if that was likely. Mind you, I have frequently heard the story of a newspaperman who stopped a football manager at the end of a match. “Could we have a quick word?” he asked. “Yes,” said the manager, “alacrity.”

Batsmen likely to be left out after three successive ducks have their own way with words. I swear I once heard a Test batsman say: “It's very disappointing. I know I didn't make many runs but they kept dropping me.” Well, they would if you didn't make enough runs, wouldn't they?

Back to the belief, soon to be shattered, that our search for heroes would have a better result than the search by King Arthur and his knights for the Holy Grail.

Our most recent search began because Rory McIlroy, 22 and full of the self-confidence of youth, stole the US Open golf trophy while Tiger Woods was recovering from injury and immediately — don't you hate the way that happens — became the greatest British golfer of all time.

We then got the idea that the whole sporting globe was going to applaud us, that our Under-21 team would win their European Cup, that Andy Murray would triumph at Wimbledon, Lewis Hamilton would skate past Sebastian Vettel in the British Grand Prix and every other top motoring event and, least likely of all, that David Haye would knock out the giant Vladimir Klitschko and so hold all the world boxing championships.

By the beginning of July all our fondest hopes had been scattered.

The young England footballers seemed to set up a win in the late stages of their competition but conceded two goals near the end and, despite fielding several players who will one day fetch a dozen million pounds on the transfer market, came home with all the upbeat joy of prisoners on bread and water.

I thought that Murray was at the top of his game until he ran into the genius Rafa Nadal in the semi-final and was given a merciless good hiding. McIlroy told Murray to “keep your focus” when he made a well-dressed appearance at Wimbledon but I don't think lack of concentration was Murray's downfall. It might just have been that Nadal was much the better player.

GP racing depends on the car so Hamilton will only win the championship again if his motor improves or he changes brand. Haye found the truth that the rest of boxing has been muttering about for a year or two. Klitschko is rather bigger than the Eiffel Tower and consequently too much for Haye who is a lean 6ft 3in.

Finally, there are so far no heroics from the three men charged with guiding England to victory over India in the second half of the summer.

Andrew Strauss, captain of the Test cricket team, is a nice man, a genuine, trustworthy helpmate to his players. Off the field you could not wish to be led by, to interview or to applaud anyone who is more mindful of his duties.

On field, I am not so sure. If I compare him with great captains like Michael Vaughan, Ray Illingworth or Mike Brearley I suspect he lacks the technical knowledge, the cricketing instinct and the leadership qualities of those great men.

Yet he is highly successful thanks to the backing of the team coach Andy Flower. The game is now played so slowly that Strauss has time to consult Flower and, being an intelligent man, he nips off the field and takes the Flower advice.

Alastair Cook the one-day captain sometimes looks bewildered. Stuart Broad the T20 skipper has less to learn in the hurly-burly of the shortest form of the game and we must wait to see if his reputation as the shrewdest young player around — handed out by Vaughan — is justified.

So it seems that the search for heroes is — dare I write it — disappointing. Perhaps as sport's favourite song suggests we should look within ourselves.

If McIlroy stays focussed long enough to win the Open golf — and Tiger Woods does not appear — we can acknowledge him as a true British hero.

Except that he speaks with that distinctive burr that means he was brought up in Belfast and I am never sure if that entitles him to be a British hero.