In The Best of Enemies, the book he has co-written with Line and Length supremo Patrick Kidd, Peter McGuinness dissects the English sporting psyche – and I would suggest he has made a fairly accurate, if withering, job of it.
“Sporting contests for the English,” says the Aussie who as a kid had the misfortune to be cast as Geoffrey Boycott in cricketing contests with his larrickin mates, “are joyless and miserable”, basically because we Poms are miserable and pessimistic by nature.
And because the England cricket team – and othe national sporting representatives – frequently perform so abysmally,we are given a regular opportunity to indulge our favourite pastime of self-flagellation (or, I suppose, flagellation by someone else, if you’re so disposed).
In essence of course, he is right. As I sat in the Guardian offices, nominally working, but basically keeping one eye on the television screen high on the wall to my left, Paul Collingwood prodding valiantly, but no doubt vainly, as all tumbled around him, I began to work myself into something of a lather of indignation.
This defeat, for this is what this match would undoubtedly result in, would not be just about England losing, it would be about England losing it, the link with rationality and common sense that I had always presumed this country to possess, but which, as events in the political and financial sphere, among others, have begun to show, is evaporating fast.
I started to scribble down some notes, for a future blog, in which England’s cricketing failure was merely a microcosm of the many other failings in political and social life that we are becoming so used to: MPs filling their boots; bankers crapping from a great height on the rest of the populace; trying to work out which Tube line will not be working this weekend; trying to understand why the cash and oyster machines that have replaced real human beings at railway stations reject almost three-quarters of the pound coins you insert in them; trying to understand why Big Brother and Piers Morgan interviewing a turbo-chested glamour model are considered prime-time TV; battling to make sense of a system which, in a recession, cuts the pay and/or work of the lower-paid journeymen (and women) so that the bosses and middle managers can retain salaries that they could never spend in a month of Sundays; why, if you’re suffering from (community-acquired) pneumonia – or even swine flu – you’re expected to tramp up to your nearest hospital, possibly by bus, thereby potentially spreading it to other people in the community, sit in a waiting room for a blood test or chest x-ray, again potentially spreading it to more people in the community, rather than being quickly isolated in a bed with some nice medicine; and most pernicious of all, why parking attendants are being paid to walk up and down your road – the road that you already pay £60 to park in (if you can find a space) – and to issue you with a parking ticket even though you have tried your hardest to position your car as close to the one in front to give more of your neighbours room to squeeze their 4x4s in.
…..but, then, of course, after Colly, the one-man fighting band that would no doubt put a stop to all the above nonsense should he be elected the next Prime Minister – which I don’t think would be a bad idea – finally departed, came the unexpected denouement. Suddenly Jimmy “in the form of his life” Anderson (I thought that epithet was meant about his bowling, not his batting), and the much-maligned Monty came together, and made all those things that make us grumpy to be English seem not so bad after all.
There was, it seemed, fight and stomach in this body of English men: and for that I will take the scrounging MPs, the bellicose bankers, the defective Tube machines, over-inflated celebrity chests, a crumbling NHS, and tyrannical traffic wardens.
But if we don’t do better at Lord’s on Thursday, you can be sure I’ll be getting around to writing that article……