An Inglorious Game
Mark Seddon is the former United Nations Correspondent and New York Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera English TV. He reported from eighteen countries during that time, including North Korea, China, Haiti, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has interviewed, amongst others, Ban Ki-Moon, Lech Walesa, Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Michael Foot, Mia Farrow, and George Clooney. In a journalistic career spanning over twenty years, he has been Editor of Tribune and an elected member of the UK Labour Party's National Executive Committee. He has written for most British newspapers and many magazines, including The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Spectator, New Statesman, Private Eye, British Journalism Review and Country Life Magazine. For a number of years he was a Diarist at the London Evening Standard, and has also reported for, amongst others, the BBC and Sky TV. He lives in Buckingham, England.
Ok, I have to admit it. I did not watch the World Cup match between Germany and England. In fact the only match I have watched was the incredibly dull play off between Algeria and England – result a nil, nil draw, if you ask. I recollect that England also played the United States, one of the very few countries that doesn’t have a national obsession with football. The reason I haven’t tuned in is that I cannot see what the fuss is all about, never have, never will.
Which doesn’t mean that I wasn’t sort of willing England on. You only have to live here to know just how passionate people are about the ‘beautiful game’. For weeks now, the English flag has graced almost every public house in the land and few cars drive by without the cross of St George billowing in their wake. Very Italian if you ask me. I do kind of regret missing the Brazil versus North Korea match, as despite the horrors of that particular regime, there is something really rather plucky about the undersized North Koreans with their retro haircuts. And I met their team in Pyongyang a few years back, which I suspect means that I am one of only a handful of Westerners to have come any near the Dear Leader’s team - and survived.
In England, we are reputed to support the under-dog, and there is a good deal of truth in this. I suppose since the England team is the new underdog, I should start supporting them. But even if I had a passing interest in watching grown men kick a spherical object around a field, and even if I could understand the depths of emotion this activity seems to engender, I could not support the England team.
And here is why. The Manager of the England team, Mr Fabio Capello is in fact an Italian who barely speaks English. Quite how his team is supposed to understand him I do not know. Mr Capello had the foresight to sign a contract worth in the region of £4 million a year, with a special clause that does not allow him to step down after the dismal performance of the national team. In fact he is in place until 2012, unless of course he is bought out of his contract. John Terry, the former England captain, who was disgraced for his off pitch gymnastics with someone else’s partner, is paid a cool £160,000 per week. His team mates are on similar stratospheric salaries.
The great British public is no longer shocked and appalled at the grotesque amounts of money wasted on what turned out to be a bunch of losers. They seem to turn a blind eye when these super celebs trash hotels and behave drunkenly and yobbishly. In short they have become untouchable.
We shall see if that is the case now, after this miserable defeat. Unlike our football princes, the fans paid for their tickets largely by taking out huge loans or re-mortgaging their houses. South Africa is a long way away, and the World Cup is an expensive hobby.
If England really wants a lean and mean football machine, then it will have to pay its stars far less, to stop them from becoming weak and flabby. It might also help having a Manager who can speak the language, and for rather less time and money to be devoted to covering a game which England is no longer very good at.
Even though we are currently basking in glorious weather, and the full ghastliness of last week’s Budget has yet to sink in, I do however feel for England’s fans. Hope springs eternal, and despite my disinterest in their beloved game and my anger at how much is wasted on the team, I wanted there to be at least some good news to cheer everyone up. Sadly that was not to be.
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