I say this as someone who's quite cheerful to be English, if not necessarily proud. I do love England and I support the teams wherever they play, but there is a danger that we do come across as perhaps the tiniest bit entitled when it comes to sport, particularly football.
Sepp Blatter rather snottily called England the 'Motherland of football' yesterday before he handed the 2018 World Cup to Russia, but there's something in that swipe that goes well beyond simple disdain for Becks, Wills and Dave and the bid they presented. You get the sense sometimes that England feel they somehow deserve the World Cup; that it's somehow our turn and that we're entitled to host it, just because Association Football was codified here. There's the sense that we can wheel out two posh guys (though I was pretty irritated by the prince's Sloaney insistence on saying "footbaw" - I want my posh guys to be posh, not to have Tony Blair-like cod blokeyness) and one pretty guy, and that's that, it's in the bag.
It's similar to the way in which England feel they deserve to win every trophy going just by turning up. Sky has convinced us we've got the Best League in the World (tm) so we're still confused every time we get dumped out of a tournament. Blame the manager, blame the players, blame everyone - don't ever stop to consider that there are other countries who are better prepared, better structured, and who simply work harder at their international football. We never stop to think about that; we just assume we should be able to win anything, if we put a team out. That's why people don't like us.
That's not the way these things go, and it's not the way that hosting a major tournament goes either. You have to dance for the guy holding the gun, and then there's still every chance he might just shoot you in the face for the fun of it. You can emphasise the 'technical' superiorities of your bid, or the benefits you'll be giving to the rest of the world, but if you haven't made the right friends, that's just the way it is. Of course there's also the chance that something else has been going on, something that a lot of people suspect is the case with Fifa, but if you don't want to play that game, and you don't want to speak up about your concerns for fear of rocking the boat either, then you had better just accept whatever decision happens with good grace.
And if we don't want to come across as arrogant, insular or entitled, it'll make sense to applaud the victory of Russia and Qatar, scrutinise how they did what they did, and see whether there are any lessons to be learned. There's no reason why international sporting competitions shouldn't go to countries outside the usual suspects, even ones who don't share 'our' values; there's no use in tut-tutting. The clue is in the title of the 'World' Cup, after all. The rather chippy way in which people looked down their noses at India for hosting the Commonwealth Games betrayed a bit of the western panic - how dare these countries be allowed to host international events!
So was it a fair bidding process or a stitch-up? Well, today's papers reflect the sense of injustice and finger-pointing. A bit of sour grapes, or is there really a whiff of corruption about the whole thing? Or maybe it's a bit of both. But still:
The Daily Mail, of course, has its own take on what it might have been that cost us the bid. I can't help feeling that this article is just outright flamebaitery, which is why I'm not linking to it.
The very un-English video, multicultural, diversity, etc etc. You get the general idea. I'm pretty sure that appearing multicultural doesn't do you any harm in an international competition where you're trying to counteract a perception of being seen as arrogant and entitled; but then there may be others who are horrified by the thought of England being multicultural - that's England, whose football team's captain is mixed race, whose players come from a wide range of backgrounds, who are supposed to pretend not to be, somehow. Like I say I'm pretty sure that article is just an attempt to wind people like me up, which of course it's done, but I'm damned if I'm giving the Mail any website traffic because of it. Go and look at the horrors for yourself if you must.
England does, I suppose, have an opportunity now. We're not going to get the World Cup for the next 10-20 years at least, so why not take this chance to try and tackle any corruption there is at the heart of Fifa or the world game? There's nothing to lose and everything to gain if the country that 'invented' football is seen to be at the vanguard of rooting out the rottenness. Or will we just keep our heads down and hope that we get fed a biscuit the next time it's up for grabs? If we do, we can't complain and mutter about a stitch-up the next time we get rejected.
Enough of the sulking, though. We're not entitled to anything. The best way to get the World Cup back would be for England to put out a team capable of actually winning the damned thing. If we can't do that, maybe we don't deserve the tournament.