02 July 2006

Why England lost the World Cup

I know very little about football, but even I could see, watching England’s match against Portugal yesterday, that England played well only after their captain had retired injured and their star player had been sent off. I wonder whether there’s something in the English psychology that values a win – in any field – only when it’s against the odds? Deep down the players perhaps know just how pampered they are. On the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme did they feel undeserving of the fabulous material rewards they’d receive for winning a football game? These players are on contracts of several tens of thousands of pounds per week. They had nothing to prove by winning until they had a real battle on their hands. Only then did they play to their full potential.

There is a wider policy question. In the UK, as in most other western countries, the government tries to help people who are out of work. It gives cash payments to the unemployed. Because such schemes are run nationally, they cannot and do not discriminate between those who need the money and those who would actually be better off without government help. There is such a class of person, and there’s no telling how big it is. But it is a downside of remote government that welfare programmes delivering cash benefits to people on the condition that they do nothing with their lives is likely to stifle any sense of pride and achievement. As with the multi-millionaire footballers (whose salaries aren’t paid by the taxpayer, thankfully), this generosity gives people no challenge to overcome, nothing to play for.

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