Never will you feel more English than when, the day after a crashing defeat, you find yourself debating the state of the country’s footballers.
It is a half-century long tradition in this part of the UK, one that we repeat, like clockwork, every two years – except on the occasions when our national team fails to even qualify for the World Cup or European Championships. And let’s be honest, the debate surrounding our on-the-pitch failings is not especially sophisticated.
Former Spurs, Manchester United and Scotland forward Alan Brazil led the criticism on Monday night. “Play direct football now!” he demanded. “Play the Premier [League] way! Tempo energy! You can’t play any other way!” His sentiment was echoed on radio phone-ins, with irate callers demanding more passion, fight, and lambasting the salaries of England’s returning flops.
If you followed the fall-out, you won’t have noticed much calm, tactical analysis of exactly what went wrong. Never mind spirit and determination and national pride – how, technically, did the team underperform throughout six hours of football? This is an imbedded problem in our footballing culture. Manager Roy Hodgson preceded the tournament by declaring “systems win you nothing”, while Gary Lineker has previously dismissed the importance of featuring tactical analysis on Match of the Day.
These traits are, unfortunately, mirrored throughout the UK’s political scene right now. In the last two days we’ve seen furious Jeremy Corbyn supporters screaming in Westminster, on Twitter, and wherever they can be heard; we’ve witnessed a tub-thumping Nigel Farage berating MEPs in Brussels; and last night we even had a furious mass of Remain supporters screaming obscenities outside parliament.
The upheaval is understandable, given the political and constitutional crisis that we find ourselves in. But if we’re to negotiate the situation with any degree of speed and success (an essential requirement, if only for the sake of the economy) then we’re going to need less noise and more strategic nous. Whether it’s at the top of the Tory party or in the government’s newly-formed “Brexit unit”, we need people capable of the kind of tactical wizardry that has eluded our football teams for decades.
The UK may be in a sticky situation following last week’s referendum – but it’s not game over yet.