Entourage too small? Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney at a World Cup press conference, 21 June. Photo: Getty
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Next time, let’s give our lads their own hair stylists and some major surgery

And of course give up all training or playing for five weeks before their first game, perhaps even have some major surgery, spend some time in a wheelchair, like Luis Suárez.

When I wake up in the night, for about five minutes I just lie there, trying to work out where I am, which house I am in, where is the lavatory, who am I, what am I. Leaving chalk marks on the floor, that often helps to locate the lavvie; but for some time I am still dozy and dopey.

For two nights after England’s exit, I woke up dead wide awake, all senses alert – and with one thought in my tiny mind: ENGLAND IS OUT. I suppose it must have been lurking there, in my semi-conscious sleeping mind, and crashed right to the fore once I opened my eyes. I then groaned loudly, and tried but failed to turn over and go back to sleep. Pathetic, or what.

Yet I always tell myself it is football that I follow, which matters most, rather than individual teams such as Spurs, Carlisle United or England, so in theory I can just relax, lie back and enjoy. But it is hard, so dreadfully hard. I feel let down, furious, when England do so badly.

There’s pleasure in seeing Uruguay do well, a country with a population of only three million, or in cheering on the likes of Chile and Costa Rica, most of whose players I’d never heard of before this World Cup, who tried so hard, were so brave and committed, who have played above themselves.

England played below themselves. Where they should be is of course not very high, and not one of their players would get picked for any of the Top Ten teams – but they failed even to be mediocre. Much smaller, so-called less favoured nations are doing better, exceeding themselves, and are exciting to watch. Unlike England.

Why was that? Not good enough, is the obvious answer, but many believe it is because Our Lads are spoiled. Lauded and lavishly rewarded in the Premiership, egos flattered, lives pampered, they feel entitled – as many do in this modern age.

Inside their heads, they gave us their best, are furious at the suggestion they did not try – but, watching them, it was clear they could not raise their game. And they got found out for the lumps they are. So sad.

Look, will you just get over it, said my wife. I expect a small boy to react like you, taking it so personally, but not someone of your age, especially not one who has just got this OBE thing, so grow up.

Gazza’s spell-check

Yes, that was a surprise, but it didn’t make up for England’s defeat. You aren’t going to accept it? she said. I said: certainly, I should get at least 1,000 words out of it. “Services to Literature”, so it said, which made them all laugh in our house. Wasn’t ghosting Rooney’s autobiography a work of high art? And Gazza’s book was highly literate, if not literary, thanks to Gazza personally correcting my spelling and punctuation. Next stop, Nobel Prize, oh yes.

Jimmy in the tartan tammy

Back to Ingerland. Obviously next time they should not have to scrape along with only 72 back-up staff in the FA’s entourage. This time they included a turf specialist, cook, psychiatrist, nutritionist, dieticians and video geeks, plus coaches, physios and blazers. I hope next time they won’t penny-pinch and will let each of the 23 players have his own hair stylist, financial adviser and brand manager. It’s only fair.

And of course give up all training or playing for five weeks before their first game, perhaps even have some major surgery, spend some time in a wheelchair, as did Luis Suárez.

And ignore all hot weather acclimatisation. In their second game, where they played even worse than in their first, they were in São Paulo, where it’s temperate, and still they could hardly work up a sweat or knock themselves out, like Algeria or Korea.

Ah well, it’s given a lot of fun to a lot of fans around the world, seeing England fall flat on its smug face. No wonder that lone Scottish fan, in his tartan tammy and waving a saltire as England went down, was such a global hit on the internet. The whole world got the joke.

It also means that when Costa Rica play England in their final, pointless group game on Tuesday – the result of which yous will all know by now – they will be able to field their B team, amateur players from their Conference League, perhaps even their girlfriends and grannies. And probably still stuff us. If, of course, Our Lads manage a scoreless draw, I’ll be dancing in the fields.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Who was Franz Ferdinand?

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Junior doctors’ strikes: the greatest union failure in a generation

The first wave of junior doctor contract impositions began this week. Here’s how the BMA union failed junior doctors.

In Robert Tressell’s novel, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, the author ridicules the notion of work as a virtuous end per se:

“And when you are all dragging out a miserable existence, gasping for breath or dying for want of air, if one of your number suggests smashing a hole in the side of one of the gasometers, you will all fall upon him in the name of law and order.”

Tressell’s characters are subdued and eroded by the daily disgraces of working life; casualised labour, poor working conditions, debt and poverty.

Although the Junior Doctors’ dispute is a far cry from the Edwardian working-poor, the eruption of fervour from Junior Doctors during the dispute channelled similar overtones of dire working standards, systemic abuse, and a spiralling accrual of discontent at the notion of “noble” work as a reward in itself. 

While the days of union activity precipitating governmental collapse are long over, the BMA (British Medical Association) mandate for industrial action occurred in a favourable context that the trade union movement has not witnessed in decades. 

Not only did members vote overwhelmingly for industrial action with the confidence of a wider public, but as a representative of an ostensibly middle-class profession with an irreplaceable skillset, the BMA had the necessary cultural capital to make its case regularly in media print and TV – a privilege routinely denied to almost all other striking workers.

Even the Labour party, which displays parliamentary reluctance in supporting outright strike action, had key members of the leadership join protests in a spectacle inconceivable just a few years earlier under the leadership of “Red Ed”.

Despite these advantageous circumstances, the first wave of contract impositions began this week. The great failures of the BMA are entirely self-inflicted: its deference to conservative narratives, an overestimation of its own method, and woeful ignorance of the difference between a trade dispute and moralising conundrums.

These right-wing discourses have assumed various metamorphoses, but at their core rest charges of immorality and betrayal – to themselves, to the profession, and ultimately to the country. These narratives have been successfully deployed since as far back as the First World War to delegitimise strikes as immoral and “un-British” – something that has remarkably haunted mainstream left-wing and union politics for over 100 years.

Unfortunately, the BMA has inherited this doubt and suspicion. Tellingly, a direct missive from the state machinery that the BMA was “trying to topple the government” helped reinforce the same historic fears of betrayal and unpatriotic behaviour that somehow crossed a sentient threshold.

Often this led to abstract and cynical theorising such as whether doctors would return to work in the face of fantastical terrorist attacks, distracting the BMA from the trade dispute at hand.

In time, with much complicity from the BMA, direct action is slowly substituted for direct inaction with no real purpose and focus ever-shifting from the contract. The health service is superficially lamented as under-resourced and underfunded, yes, but certainly no serious plan or comment on how political factors and ideologies have contributed to its present condition.

There is little to be said by the BMA for how responsibility for welfare provision lay with government rather than individual doctors; virtually nothing on the role of austerity policies; and total silence on how neoliberal policies act as a system of corporate welfare, eliciting government action when in the direct interests of corporatism.

In place of safeguards demanded by the grassroots, there are instead vague quick-fixes. Indeed, there can be no protections for whistleblowers without recourse to definable and tested legal safeguards. There are limited incentives for compliance by employers because of atomised union representation and there can be no exposure of a failing system when workers are treated as passive objects requiring ever-greater regulation.

In many ways, the BMA exists as the archetypal “union for a union’s sake”, whose material and functional interest is largely self-intuitive. The preservation of the union as an entity is an end in itself.

Addressing conflict in a manner consistent with corporate and business frameworks, there remains at all times overarching emphasis on stability (“the BMA is the only union for doctors”), controlled compromise (“this is the best deal we can get”) and appeasement to “greater” interests (“think of the patients”). These are reiterated even when diametrically opposed to its own members or irrelevant to the trade dispute.

With great chutzpah, the BMA often moves from one impasse to the next, framing defeats as somehow in the interests of the membership. Channels of communication between hierarchy and members remain opaque, allowing decisions such as revocation of the democratic mandate for industrial action to be made with frightening informality.

Pointedly, although the BMA often appears to be doing nothing, the hierarchy is in fact continually defining the scope of choice available to members – silence equals facilitation and de facto acceptance of imposition. You don’t get a sense of cumulative unionism ready to inspire its members towards a swift and decisive victory.

The BMA has woefully wasted the potential for direct action. It has encouraged a passive and pessimistic malaise among its remaining membership and presided over the most spectacular failure of union representation in a generation.

Ahmed Wakas Khan is a junior doctor, freelance journalist and editorials lead at The Platform. He tweets @SireAhmed.