Mon. Jul 22nd, 2019

The sun may be shining but England risk a damp end to glorious sporting summer

The reappearance of that peculiar bright yellow orb in our skies this week has stirred the loins with a fantasy of this country’s winter of our political discontent turning glorious sporting summer.

My thanks to the Bard for the paraphrasing. But not so fast. Not even with the sun blazing down on the shires.

Just as so many descendants of Shakespeare’s English yeomen got ahead of themselves before Gareth Southgate’s young Lions came another semi-final cropper, this time in the European Nations League earlier this month, we may be guilty of jumping the gun again.

A convincing victory for England raised hopes ahead of a semi-final with USA or France 

Phil Neville’s Lionesses looked just as unconvincing as the men going into their World Cup quarter-final against Norway, although a convincing victory raises hopes they can give USA or France a run for their money in the semis.

Worse still, in these supposedly halcyon months of our cherished summer game, England’s cricketers are teetering on the precipice of elimination from a World Cup on their own seaming pastures.

Which would be more damaging to the national psyche? Brexit or Crexit?

Defeat by India this Sunday would potentially take qualification for the semi-finals out of England’s own hands. 

As if that is not pressure enough, this battle will be fought at Edgbaston, a corner of Middle England which will be largely occupied by India’s cacophonous supporters.

One of Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka will be waiting to pounce if it happens.

Come Wimbledon on Monday, a home champion will appear like some distant mirage. 

No Andy Murray – sorry, the doubles doesn’t get the full count in terms of patriotic pride. The rest of the Brit chaps out of sorts. Ms Konta repeatedly wilting before almost any lady in the top 100.

Jo Konta leads Britain's hopes at Wimbledon this year with Andy Murray in doubles action

Jo Konta leads Britain’s hopes at Wimbledon this year with Andy Murray in doubles action

Come on Roger. Precious little is still what it said on the can a few weeks ago. That goes for FIFA’s claims about the box office pulling power of the Women’s World Cup.

Amid the tsunami of expectation of the ladies coming into their own, FIFA announced in advance that 20 of the 52 matches in France were sell-outs. 

Not even President Slippery, Gianni Infantino, could get away with that one as the TV broadcasters struggled in vain to keep swathes of empty seats off camera.

So FIFA revised that prediction down to 14 games. They include the two semi-finals and final, all of which will be played in Lyon.

And to date only two countries have played to full houses – France the hosts and USA the holders. The latter having built up a huge travelling fan base in America by winning three previous World Cups and four Olympic golds.

Despite all the pre-tournament Lioness tub-thumping and claims of packed support, England’s opening win against Scotland drew just 13,189 spectators to the 35,000 capacity Stade de Nice. At 36 per cent that is the lowest occupancy rate thus far.

Manager Neville himself has admitted that around their base on the Cote d’Azur ‘you would hardly know’ a World Cup is taking place.

Expectations were that the turn-out would look more plentiful for the quarter final in the 25,181 capacity Stade Ocean in Le Havre.

The final stages in Lyon will put on a much more respectable face but the preceding hysteria applied a false and unnecessary gloss to the female game.

England's cricketers are teetering on the precipice of elimination at a home World Cup

England’s cricketers are teetering on the precipice of elimination at a home World Cup

Women’s football is making its impressive mark, arousing much more public attention world-wide and being given the respect it deserves in its own right.

Without the exaggerations, the progress at this World Cup would have been seen in an even more encouraging light.

Instead, it keeps exposing itself to unwise comparisons.

For just one example, the authorities have rushed to tell us that US star Alex Morgan has now reached 6.5 million Instagram followers, with Brazil icon Marta on 2.5 million. England’s leading girl, Toni Duggan, is just outside the World Cup’s top 20 on 330,000.

All strong indicators of rising interest but figures which pale when devotees of Cristiano Ronaldo are quick to point out that he is now the most followed instagrammer in the world – not just football – with 172.7 million, while Lionel Messi has 123.4 million.

Women’s football has reached the attractive and distinctive point where it should march to its own drummer, not obsess with following in the men’s footsteps.

The cricket World Cup has none of those problems with attendances. It is England’s team which needs to get its act back together. And quickly.

One more bottling job and the storm clouds will be gathering.

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