There’s been something missing from my life this year. Not missed, but definitely missing.
Usually from around St George’s Day onwards my street is festooned with the England flag (not to be confused with the British Flag, as worn by Especially Useless Spice back in the 90s) and the night skies are rendered with the cries of eng-er-land, eng-er-land as 11 of our most inept sportsmen head towards another crushing semi-final defeat (preferably via penalty shoot out)
England haven’t won anything in football (or soccer as it’s also known) since 1966 when we beat West Germany in the World Cup - an event that has passed into our national psyche like no other to the point where it seems to have surpassed The Battle Of Hastings, the Works of Shakespeare, the constant expecting special treatment abroad on the grounds we had an empire once and Hugh Grant films as our defining moment - and so we have gathered our gallant losers to our collective bosom, forever hoping that one day they will rise again.
However, I do wonder what fate would await our players were they ever to start actually bringing home the trophies. As a non-believer in football I was secretly pleased when England failed to get past the qualifiers – resulting in a quieter and far more sober summer for our street than had been expected without a single flag waving from someone’s window…and yet we have been doing rather well elsewhere recently.
At the time of writing this Team GB (as we are calling them to make them somehow sound more cool) are third in the Olympic Gold Medal tables. Only Russia stands any chance of catching us and whatever happens we have had our best Olympic results since 1908.
So you might expect the streets to be festooned with flags. You might expect the streets to be full of enthusiastic English people cheering on our athletes as they start bringing home the medals. You might expect the same kind of hero worship that is currently being thrown at the feet of Michael Phelps – the only man who could take on Marina the fish-girl from Stingray and win.
What we Brits are actually reacting with is sarcasm, cynisism and bad jokes. Fairly typical for a country that has national heroes and stars that include Captain Scott (died coming second to the south pole), Tim (out in the quarter-finals without fail) Henman, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards and Jade Goody (don't ask - just be grateful you don't know who she is...)
Earlier this week I saw a cartoon in a free newspaper where a billboard was showing “Team GB Wins Gold In Cycling, Riding And Rowing”. Two men were shown walking past, saying, “I put it down to the price of fuel”
This is typical of our reaction to the Olympics. Over the last two weeks I have heard comments along the lines of “We only do well at the sports where we have something to help us” (IE boats, horses, cycles) and “We only do well at the sports that other countries are too poor to enter” (this joke was broadcast on the BBC)
And whilst it is true that we have done rather better at the sports that are played by the kind of person who went to Eaton, speaks like Joanna Lumley (in posh mode) and owns half of Buckinghamshire this does not detract from their hard work and dedication – so maybe we should ditch the negative response and try being proud of them for a change?
The truly sad part is that in a couple of weeks there will be another Olympics. We will do rather better at this one, bring home medals in almost every sport and probably set a few records along the way.
But there will be no all-day TV coverage of the Para-Olympics on BBC1 – in fact they’ll be lucky to get half-an-hour of highlights on one of the secondary channels, and the medallists will return home to little or no heroes welcome.
Surely the spirit of the Olympics is not just to be the fastest and the strongest, but the battle to achieve and be more than we thought we could be.
Meanwhile, in a corner of the sofa, my cat is competing in the Cat Olympics. He makes it through to the final of the All Day Snoozing Event, but looses out in the finals to the Chinese (or Siamese in this case). I give him a hug and tell him I’m proud of him anyway and together we fly a small flag for the cats of the world. I’d play him the Cat National Anthem – if only I knew how it went!