"How Crap It Is To Be English"

Previously on the deliciously masochistic self-loathing of English sports fans here. I thought I had some vague appreciation of the phenomenon -- and it turns out that "vague" is the crucial term. From a wrap-up of what went right and wrong for the English side at the World Cup:

Negatives?

Almost the entire England squad.
I will give Dawson and Hart a break. They never got a chance and look good for the future. Carrick and Warnock also never played, but perhaps thankfully in that case. So there are just 19 negatives. Plus the English FA. I have no faith in its ability to learn anything from this very, very poor World Cup in every respect.

The entire English system.
Too many games. Too few young players getting opportunities in domestic games or good enough to get opportunities in domestic games.

The entire English media.
Fire the manager, don't blame the players, get a new manager, change the tactics, don't change the system, don't blame the players, fire the manager, don't blame the players, get a new manager ... rinse and repeat.

England.
Americans will never completely understand how crap it is, most of the time, to be English. We might have cute accents and be good at cocktail parties. But we are mostly losers.

After the jump, some on-scene observations of this phenomenon from a Yank who watched World Cup play in England. I do understand that the "how crap it is" tone is wry, but it is a particular kind of wryness you really don't find in other places when talking about themselves. And it adds a nice edge to Andrew Sullivan's reminder that for countries that care about it, soccer/"football" really reflects national spirit and is war by other means.

From an American reader:

As entertaining as it can be to read this self-loathing cynicism, however, I have to say that in person it is entirely unbearable.  I was in London during the 2006 World Cup, and I have never so strongly rooted against a team as I did then with the English.  The incessant cynicism, the self-loathing, the whining, and the painful minutia of the "analysis" were just too intolerable, and though I went into the World Cup thinking that being around the English would make me root for England even more, the opposite was true.  Clive Crook noted in an FT column a few weeks back that an American media firestorm (in reference to BP, obviously) was a disgusting thing to watch.  I would respond by saying the English media, particularly around anything soccer related, is probably worse.

This therapeutic masochism is one of the main areas in which I think the English differ from us Americans.  I was out at dinner the other night with an English friend, and we were talking about the English love of verbal jousting, something we Americans do very little of.  He was talking about how his friends interact, especially when they introduce a new girlfriend to the group, and he basically said that the entire point is to tear down the friend as much as possible.  Now, in a group of friends trying to joke about one of the guys in front of a new girlfriend, it can be a harmless way to have some fun.  But when you pay attention to what they say, even in things like Prime Minister's Questions, it's never about substance.  It's like martial theater.  The entire point is just to win, to verbally defeat your "opponent" and to tear him down as much as possible.  We don't do that at all, or if we do it is far less clever.

While I'm at it, a refinement to my assertion that Scott Murray, the Guardian writer who reveled in England as a "pathetic rabble," was writing about "his country's team." From a reader in Istanbul:

While there are today countless examples of English journalists and supporters tearing into their national team (or more often its foreign manager), the example you chose was written by a Scotsman, as can be heard from his accent in this Guardian World Cup podcast, and perhaps guessed from his name.

The Guardian seem to choose non-English journalists (Scott Murray and Ireland's Barry Glendenning) to do the minute reports, possibly to let the English ones watch the game without distractions, but probably also to avoid the jingoistic coverage that afflicts the BBC and ITV whenever England are involved.

And, one more illustration here.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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