The London Olympics are now past the halfway point, and in a few short days will be a mere memory. Already, regardless of what happens between now and the closing ceremony, the vast majority of those memories from a Team GB perspective will be happy ones.
It’s been a phenomenal run of success for the British team, an incredible medal haul and a huge list of heroic performances across the board. The Telegraph – a tabloid paper over here – made a big joke after a couple of days about the fact that the Brits were still searching for a gold medal whilst even “Borat’s Kazakhstan” had 3. Since then it has been gold upon gold for GB, made slightly more enjoyable with the hilarious sight of distraught Aussies in various sports.
What has really struck me during this epic gold rush (other than a huge regret to not be in my home city and missing this once in a lifetime event) is the consistency with which our athletes have performed and delivered under the highest pressure. For the likes of Jessica Ennis, Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Mo Farah and Bradley Wiggins, the talk for 4 years has been about a home nation gold. Nothing less would do, and yet despite this enormous pressure, time after time they have delivered.
More than just delivered though…smashed records, obliterated personal bests, left the opposition reeling without a prayer of stopping them. The clear conclusion of how they have performed so excellently whether on track, bike, boat or even horse (either kind) has seemed to come down to one thing: the support. Being the home nation guarantees a roar of encouragement for any competitor and even from so far away, and with coverage heavily biased towards the green and gold not the red,white and blue; it has been clearly evident that the support for Team GB has been remarkable.
With that point I come to the purpose of this post. My question is – if the vociferous, unwavering, passionate support is the key; why then does the England football team consistently fall short?
England benefit from incredible support wherever they travel – indeed it was quite bizarre in Euro 2012 to see and hear opposition fans, usually drowning in the sea of St George’s Cross flags and the Great Escape theme tune. They have literally thousands of people who will follow them everywhere, surely this should provide the lift that the athletes in 2012 have been so quick to acknowledge? What are they doing wrong or differently?
Perhaps it’s the team nature of sport – one man’s boost is another man’s crippling weight of expectation. You might play a stormer but if your 10 team-mates aren’t on it, it’s not enough. Perhaps it’s the legacy effect – England have an ever-increasing back catalogue of failures, sometimes glorious in their nature but all ultimately failures. Contrast with Team GB who exceeded expectations in Athens 2004, only to build on it again 4 years later in Beijing – their trajectory is ever soaring and this rubs off.
It could be the factor of opposition and the nature of the sport – if you work on a repeated routine for throwing a javelin, riding a bike fast or rowing a boat (I’m simplifying here) then it simply becomes a matter of repetition, ironing out the kinks, and executing on the day. Footballers will work on all the skills, set pieces etc…but then you have to throw in an opponent who won’t do what you want them to and may well be better, faster, stronger or more committed than you.
Maybe it’s the big show effect. I don’t agree with Olympic football simply because the Olympics do not represent the pinnacle of football. If canoe slalom is your bag, then your holy grail is the Olympic gold…likewise heptathlon, long jump or even the batshit mental keirin. One chance, every four years. Maybe 4 or 5 chances at most in your life. Of course the World Cup only rolls around once every four years but for many of the players for whom the World Cup might be a realistic target, there are yearly high profile domestic leagues and cups to play for, plus the Champions League – arguably now the showpiece game in world football. Another big deal comes along soon enough, so each big occasion doesn’t maybe elicit the same focus, preparation and determination as so often exhibited during the Games.
Allied to that is the element of club football – players are paid by clubs and probably realise that they have a better chance of success for their club than with England. Indeed sometimes (ironically, having mentioned the great support) they will come under criticism in the white shirt that their own fans would not send their way – it could begin to seem like a chore rather than the ultimate pinnacle of their craft. I don’t get that impression from anyone representing Britain right now.
This is all just conjecture, speculation…the truth is I really don’t know how or why our football team consisently fail to reach even a major final let alone ‘the gold’. The incredible achievements of our myriad of supreme athletes should not be tainted with this either – they fully deserve the spotlight and talk of England can be put away for the time being.
As a final word we surely have to acknowledge the dedication and respect to tradition paid by the Team GB footballers: even when all around you are delivering gold after wonderful gold, stick to the script…lose on penalties in the quarter final. Inspire a generation? Indeed.