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Two World Wars and One World Cup (and the Americans).

This is a gem of idocy from Walter Ellis of the Telegraph…

Most of the world, China now included, views football as the number one team game. You had only to turn on your television or pick up a newspaper in England’s final days in Euro 2012 to realise that, for the English, beating the Germans at Wembley in 1966 was at least as important as beating them at El Alamein in 1942.

Generations of Brits have grown up with only the haziest notion of who the heroes of the Second World War might have been. But they know who made the grade in 1966[...]

So, basically, a Russian* linesman and some footballers are of greater macrohistorical importance than Monty and the 8th Army… Well, it’s a new take I guess. I suspect it ought to be on Michael Gove’s new O-Levels or something. Or maybe taught at Sandhurst. Along with penalty kicks. Perhaps we ought to challenge the Taliban to a game of footie? I mean they are honourable men (so The Khazi thinks) and shall surely abide by the result. we could even use that same stadium they used to hang people from the goal posts! Home fixture for them – they can’t complain – but no IEDs around their penalty box – that would not be sporting!

I despise with every fibre of my being any attempts to equate sport and war. This was the nadir of course…

And they, “Think it’s all over…” The British press clearly don’t – still. Perhaps the fact that too many people here regard a football match as morally equivalent to a battle (and a battle long ago) is why we have done so badly at footie for so many years. Either that or we field a collection of over-paid prima-donnas who aren’t that good really. Yeah, that might be it too.

The gist of the article though is about sport in the USA and suggests an insularity about sporting attitudes in the USA which is just not true and an insularity about Mr Ellis which is true. Basketball is a truly global sport, baseball widely played. Ellis skates over ice-hockey because I think even he knows it can hardly be seen as a US only game. I mean has he ever spoken to, say, a Russian of Finn or Canadian? He has silly things to say about golf, tennis and motor-racing as well. He ignores things like the gee-gees and swimming, running, jumping and chucking stuff in order embarrassing his own incorrect thesis.

Ellis is basically talking utter rot and nasty rot at that. He claims football is more important than titanic battles and gets snidey about the “fatness” of baseball players as well as strongly implying US xenophobia. Oh, he’s pulling all the Little Englander levers isn’t he? Is it just me or is The Telegraph really going into a death-spiral locked in mortal struggle with The Mail for the most Blimpish of Middle England?

And to write that a couple of days before The Queen unveils the RAF Bomber Command memorial is unforgivable. Ellis and his masters at The Telegraph ought to be utterly ashamed of themselves.

*Actually an Azeri.


  1. Sam Duncan says:

    Ellis appears to know a bit about baseball. So he’s surely aware that it’s the national sport in Japan. And Cuba, the Dominican Republic (huge number of Dominicans in the Major Leagues), Taiwan, Mexico… I wish there was more of it here. Great game. (It’s the one thing that would have persuaded me to watch any of the Olympic boondoggle. It was in as a demonstration sport – there was talk of holding it at Lord’s – until almost the last minute.)

    Hockey? Aside from, yes the Russkies and Finns, the “Nation” referred to by the National Hockey League is Canada, dammit!

    North American motorsport isn’t as insular as it looks. True, their indigenous stock-car series is the biggest draw, which is unusual (although the same might be said for the Australians), but there are Brits, Australians, Columbians, and a heap of other nationalities driving in it these days, and it gets a lot of respect round the world now. Of course, in open-wheel racing in particular, it’s extremely unusual for F1 not to be seen as the top series, but the Indycars are built by the Italian firm Dallara, and although only three (out of 15) races are outside the US, the driver lineup is truly international: of the 23 drivers contesting every round of the 2012 Championship, only seven are Americans. Seven. And I haven’t even mentioned sportscars, where until this year’s revival of the WEC after two decades, the American Le Mans Series was the premier championship in the world.

    Frankly, F1 only has itself to blame for its failure in the US. It’s shot itself in the foot so many times it’s a wonder it can still walk, let alone barge about at 200mph. The reason Americans ignore it is because they have alternatives in NASCAR and Indycar; better alternatives. Trust me: if we had a European/global series in which the governing body didn’t appear to make up decisions after consulting a magic 8-ball (and Luca di Montezemolo), where race tickets cost £10, and where you could actually wander around the paddock and look at the cars, nobody would give F1 the time of day here either. FOM and the FIA, like so many European sporting bodies, and Walter Ellis, are labouring under the delusion that they are Important. It’s a very European attitude: we plebs – the people who pay their damn wages – are to be suffered and condescended to, not thanked and entertained.

    “Why don’t they join in with the rest of us?”

    Why the hell would they want to?

  2. Sorry Sam, Baseball? ~ “two out, top of the fifth, bases loaded, count is at 1 and 1, hitter batting only .223 this month, pitcher having a problem with fly-balls, relief pitcher warming up in the bull-pen, crowd now all so comatose bored waiting for something to happen, or god-forbid one team actually score more often than Spain in a football international that they are drunk, asleep or on the phone waiting for a commercial break on the Jumbo-tron” and who could blame ‘em.

  3. zack says:

    Sam, while you’re right about most of the baseball mad countries, I don’t think that baseball is considered the ‘national sport’ of Mexico. From what I gather soccer is definitely the most popular sport there, but baseball is probably the number two sport (especially in the northern part of the country). Suprisingly enough, American football is also popular there (also in the northern part of the country), and if I’m not mistaken the attendance record for a regular season NFL game is held by Azteca stadium.

    That said, I agree Nick, the article was crap. It came off as condescending; the general tone was “will you look at the strange customs of the backward natives” of a bad anthropology report. But it isn’t all bad – he had enough sense to use a picture of the Philly Phanatic, the best mascot in the world.

  4. zack says:

    SAoT: two out, top of the fifth, bases loaded, count is at 1 and 1, hitter batting only .223 this month, pitcher having a problem with fly-balls, relief pitcher warming up in the bull-pen, crowd now all so comatose bored….

    SAoT, the game was just getting good, why’d you lose it?! Baseball is a great way to spend a summer afternoon, something to experience. It’s can be relaxing until it gets suddenly very exiting, or there’s the slowly building tension of a great inning or at bat; seeing the Phillies come back from 10 run deficit in the bottom of the 9th is still one of my favorite memories from childhood; seeing Joe Blanton (a pitcher who sucks at batting [ass most pitchers do]) work a count, fouling off several pitches until he finally hits a homerun is another (much more recent one). There’s no clock to run out, so we don’t get the holding the ball and running down the clock we see most other sports – the other team has to give you a chance to make a play, they have to give you shot inorder to end it. This also means that it exists in it’s own little world – it moves at it’s own time, things flow by differently during a game; an inning can take 5 minutes, or an hour. It’s a great way to just set the world aside for while.

    Yeah, I’ll take that over a game that takes 5 days to play with tea breaks and still ends in a draw (I kid, I kid – from what little I’ve seen of it, I like cricket)

  5. zack says:

    PS. forgive me for posting three times in a row, but it just occured to me that no one here (besides Nick in the opening post) remarked on the most condescending and offensive part of the article – saying soccer/sports is of more societal import then the war that saved that civilization. I actually feel a little guilty about that.

    Now, maybe it’s that Nick nailed it so well in the opening post (which he did) that none of us felt the need to comment further. Or, maybe, the fact that we all jumped right into the merits of the sporting cultures of different countries shows that Mr. Ellis , sadly, has a bit of point.


  6. NickM says:

    Why thanks zack! I have to say the post was a bit of a “game of two halves” so I wasn’t that surprised. I do worry though about your final point – see the Mirror front page and also the general cheapening of the word “hero via the now ubiquitous term “sporting hero”. Does Ashley Cole really compare with Guy Gibson in the heroism stakes? Really?

  7. zack says:

    Nick, I absolutely agree with you’re point about the media cheapening the word ‘hero’, and also about how sports is often compared to war. In no way does being a great soccer player equate to being a soldier. In my third post (shame we don’t have an edit feature)I was commenting on how we commentators hopped right on to the sports angel and ignored the above point; I was saying that when Walter Ellis says “for the English, beating the Germans at Wembley in 1966 was at least as important as beating them at El Alamein in 1942. Generations of Brits have grown up with only the haziest notion of who the heroes of the Second World War might have been. But they know who made the grade in 1966…” is (sadly) probably not far from the mark. Sports is more important to peoples everyday lives then soldiers risking/sacrificing their lives.

    Not saying it’s right, just that it’s more true then we (or at least I) would like.

  8. Sam Duncan says:

    Yeah, fair enough, Zack. Getting a bit carried away there (never let the facts get in the way of a good rant ;) ). Of course Mexicans are footie-mad. I remember the ’86 World Cup like it was yesterday. That was back when Scotland used to qualify for these things, of course…

  9. NickM says:

    Do you remember when Archie Gemmill scoring against Holland…

    Seriously though my post was a bipartite comment on a bipartite piece in The Telegraph so fair does. Certainly your comment was interesting.

    Thanks. Sorry about the lack of edit and all…

  10. Zack, I was a bit tongue-in-cheek as I am sure you know. With cricket, and I suspect baseball, if you grow up with it, you can appreciate the subtle nature of the plays, not obvious to casual observers. I fancy they are both acquired tastes.

    I once saw Atherton and Stewart (England’s openers at the time) survive eleven overs of the most blistering, hostile quick bowling from two West Indians called Ambrose and Walsh (the two premier quicks in the world at the time). The batsmen didn’t score a run in nearly an hour, but it was all about survival and in its way, it was a real testamant to grit and courage which might have looked a tad boring to the casual observer.

    I am sure much of baseball is like this, but I just don’t get it personally, not having grown up with it.

  11. Lynne says:

    A classic case of chronic Head Up Own Fundament syndrome. Unfortunately it is endemic with meejah types. The only cure is to not pay to read their bullshit. Starve the buggers back to sanity.

  12. I don’t think anyone can argue with the point that the US sporting scene is very distinctive compared to say Europe. But what’s wrong with that? Nor is it inaccurate to point out that baseball players tend to be beefier than say cricketers. Again, so what? If they were not fit enough for the game they wouldn’t last long. I don’t understand baseball to be honest. Channel 4 tried showing it a few years ago, when they also showed American Football but the filming seemed to be designed to make it impossible to work out what was happening elsewhere on the diamond and I assume it didn’t get the audiences. A shame because it seemed to have many of the possibilities now being offered by 20-20 cricket.

    The one thing that I always find incomprehensible about American Football is the draft. I know it wouldn’t be possible without the huge base of college football underpinning the professional leagues, but I still don’t understand how the practice got a foothold.

  13. NickM says:

    Sport varies dramatically within countries. Look at Rugby League. It’s primarily played along the M-62 corridor (in England anyway). Within the USA ice-hockey, for example, seems to be very much a Northern Midwest thing. From prsonal experience (and I appreciate your point about C4 nawsing it up) you need to sit down in the USA and watch a game of American Football or Baseball with a sympathetic American who is prepared to spend as much time explaining it to a noob as watching the game.

  14. zack says:

    ian: The one thing that I always find incomprehensible about American Football is the draft. I know it wouldn’t be possible without the huge base of college football underpinning the professional leagues, but I still don’t understand how the practice got a foothold.

    it was first instituted in the 1930′s to address a competative imbalance. The issue at the time was that the league had a few good teams, and a few wealthy owners, and they were taking up all of the good players from the colleges; this of course meant that all of the good players were going to same four teams (bears, packers, giants and redskins). This prompted the Bert Bell (owner of the Philadelphia Eagles) to propose a draft as a corrective; the team with the worst record is given first pick of eligible players, and exclusive signing rights to a player (example: Cleveland Browns draft Joe B Joe B can either sign with the Browns, or if he doesn’t want to, he can wait until next years draft, or he can ask to be traded, which most teams are willing to work with); this way teams that are bad right now have the option of building a winning team and becoming competative. The measure passed unanimously.

    It has worked so well that all of the major sports leagues in America (and Canada as far as I know) have implemented the same system. Of course, I’m not really sure that it would work in a league that has relegation.

  15. zack says:

    actually, I just remembered (with some help from wikipedia) that the NHL and NBA have a weighted lottery for draft pick order (the worse you do, the more the lottery is weighted in your favor; there is a rule that a team can move up/down in order no more then 4 spots); this was done to prevent teams from loosing on purpose to get the best pick.

  16. NickM says:

    I was a bit vague about the draft myself. Thanks. A major issue here is that in the UK football (aka 2soccer”) don’t recruit from college but much younger and a lot of players with no fall-back or no experience of life outside of the game go off the rails. Gazza is a case in point. He is almost a Groundhog Day for George Best. Tragic.

    Might the draft help Rangers out of it’s schtuck? I mean without any effective opposition to Celtic God knows what will become of Scottish football.

    And I say that as a Newcastle Supporter and we won the English League. Last time was 1927 but we keep the faith. My Grandfather (a Sunderland supporter) was 5 at the time. These things are sent to try us.

  17. Nick – you are right about the regional dimension to sport, even major games like Rugby. I always have problems explaining that in Gateshead the local version of Rugby wasn’t League but Union. There are two rugby union clubs in central Gateshead even now. I went to a traditional Grammar School but we generally played football not rugby, although in my junior school we played shinty as well.

    In the UK at least there are also social and class differences. Golf clubs carry strong social status and I’ve seen it suggested that one reason why we are so crap at tennis these days is that tennis clubs are full of middle aged, middle class couples who discourage youngsters coming in because they would disturb their cosy socialising.

    Other minor sports like bowls are also regionalised. Crown Green bowls is concentrated I think in much the same area as League and the other type elsewhere. Curling is concentrated in Scotland, although I saw some old maps once that showed curling ponds in Felling to the east of Gateshead

    We think of boule/petanque as being uniquely French but in practice it is concentrated towards the Mediterrean although there are variations played elsewhere – I’ve seen it played on hard sand in lanes like 10 pin bowling in Brittany and there is apparently a version in the Loire Valley played indoors on a wooden surface that curves up at the edges.

    Then there is perhaps the strangest game of all – kabaddi, played in India.

  18. NickM says:

    C4 tried to televise Kabaddi (aka British Bulldog without the ultra-violence) as well!

    Not the weirdest game. There are some very strange ones out there.

  19. Sam Duncan says:

    Gawd, Rangers, Nick. I’m sure one reason I’m not really a football fan is Scottish football. The culture surrounding it put me off as a kid, as much as the game itself. Sure, a bit of needle makes things interesting, but the Old Firm think they’re at war. And so do the rest of the League. From where I’m sitting, I cannot, for the life of me, fathom why New Rangers shouldn’t be a quiet seamless shift like, for example, New GM was, but there’s too much spite and bile swilling around for that. The other clubs want revenge.

    I’ve often thought some kind of draft would help level out the totally skewed balance of power in the SPL/SFL, but from the response I get from mates who’re closer to the game I get the feeling there’s a strong case of Not Invented Here Syndrome.

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