Euro 2008 and the economy

Martin O'Neill unpicks claims that England's defeat to Croatia will cost the economy somewhere betwe

Sporting defeats are often attended by hyperbolic and ill-thought out outpourings of woe, and England's ignominious defeat to Croatia last week has unleashed a predictable torrent of soul-searching and doom-mongering. Perhaps the silliest element of this torrent, though, has been the claims that England's failure to qualify for Euro 2008 will cost the UK economy £1 billion.

Indeed, whilst many newspapers quoted the verdict of the Centre for Economic and Business Research that the economy would take a £1 billion hit, the Daily Mail told us that the loss would be as much as £1.5 billion, with the Telegraph pushing out the boat to predict a loss of £2 billion.

These figures are arrived at by thinking about all the things that people now won't be doing because England won't be playing in Euro 2008.

Fewer people will be watching football matches in pubs, and so publican's and brewer's takings are expected to be down by £285 million. The replica shirt market will be hit, with sales of the England kit down by as much as £100 million. People won't do so much gambling on football, so betting companies will take a hit as well.

It's not difficult to think of the companies that stand to lose from England's defeat, and so adding their losses together to arrive at an overall economic loss might initially seem like a reasonably plausible procedure.

A moment's thought, though, reveals that it is absurd to think that the 'cost to the economy' can be arrived at through adding up the cost to brewers, publicans, bookies and sportswear makers. For this is the 'cost to the economy' only if the money that people would have spent on booze and betting were somehow now completely to disappear.

But it is a reasonable prediction that people won't burn the money that they would have spent whilst watching England struggle to a 1-1 draw against Switzerland in some imagined alternative future. Neither will they stuff the money into their mattresses, or use it as bedding for their household pets. No.
They'll either spend it on other items of consumption or they'll invest it.

Rather than being lost to the economy, the money will just be used in some other way. And so it's ridiculous to come up with some notional 'cost to the economy' of England's defeat only by adding up all the economic losses, without thinking of all the consequential economic gains.

This sort of error is very common, and comes up all over the place. It's the error of assuming that 'all other things will remain equal' when a second's thought would show that other things will not remain equal at all.

It's true that the economy would take a big hit if we simply took away people's spending on Umbro shirts, big-screen TVs, pints of lager, and all the other paraphernalia of football watching. But that's not what's going to happen.

Instead, people are going to do other things with their time and money instead.

Many lazy stories are written around spurious claims about the 'cost to the economy' of something or other. A lot of crazy figures are plucked out of a hat and then paraded for our delectation by a gullible media.

For example, the CBI claimed in August that instituting a new Bank Holiday would cost the economy 'up to six billion pounds' a year. And the government's Foresight report on obesity claimed that by 2050 obese people would cost the economy a truly gigantic £45 billion every year.

But, the CBI's figure looked only at lost work days rather than thinking about all the extra expenditure that people could do on their extra day off, let alone the extra productivity that might emerge if people were able to recharge their batteries rather than working through without a break from the end of August to Christmas. In the same way, the figure on obesity simply added the costs of time off work and ill health due to excessive weight, whilst ignoring the effect on Britain's fast-food retailers that would be entailed by a radical change in diet.

The truth is that most claims about 'cost to the economy' just don't stand up.

Many changes have unintended consequences, and most stories about overall economic cost make only the most perfunctory effort to think about what those other consequences might be.

Here's a prediction, though: I hereby claim that the economy will be no worse off for England's defeat to Croatia. We'll spend less on betting and booze, but we'll instead spend that money on something more useful instead whether on capital goods like home improvements or consumption goods like restaurant meals or trips to the cinema.

Instead of 50-60,000 English fans making the pilgrimage to follow their team in Austria and Switzerland, most of them will instead take one fewer holiday and spend their money at home instead. With England out of the tournament, the nation will be much less likely to skive off work to go home to watch the footie, and we'll collectively spend more of our time at work actually working instead of hanging out by the proverbial water cooler and exchanging withering verdicts on Steve McClaren's tactical naivety.

Brewers and bookies will take a hit, but all other things in the economy will not remain equal, and one industry's loss will very likely be another's gain.

There is good reason to bewail the embarrassment of last week's inglorious footballing collapse. But the loss is primarily to national pride, rather than the headline-grabbing blather about 'the cost to the economy'.

Martin O’Neill is a political philosopher, based at the Centre for Political Theory in the Department of Politics at the University of Manchester. He has previously taught at Cambridge and Harvard, and is writing a book on Corporations and Social Justice.
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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State