Football and feminism

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote once: ‘There is nothing I hate more than a masculine man.’

Could feminism be a cause of England’s rubbishness at football? Greg Dyke, the chairman of the FA, did say there could be a number of reasons.

However, he seemed to suggest the main problem was that the Premiership was full of foreigners. Only 32 per cent of the starting line-ups last season were native English horny-handed sons of Albion. Not Albion Rovers, the Scottish team from Coatbridge, currently in the Scottish League Two, but Albion meaning England, as in “perfidious Albion”, though Albion, from the Greek, originally referred to our whole island. We’ll start again.

English players are a minority in their own major league: no argument there. But this is a result, not a cause, of the problem. It clearly limits Roy Hodgson when picking 11 English lads who can kick straight, and mostly to each other, but in the 1970s and 1980s, before the Premiership, the vast majority of our players were English – and did it help us win anything? Did it buggery.

So is it the Prem managers? Only five are English, so why should they care about encouraging young English talent if it’s cheaper and easier to buy someone half decent from eastern Europe, rather than east Essex?

Or the coaches? They’re supposed to spot local lads while they’re still in nappies, then knock them into shape. Again, the facts indicate there’s a problem. We have just 1,161 licensed coaches in England, compared to 12,720 in Spain and 5,500 in Germany. Something’s wrong here.

And yet for 20 years, since the Prem began, our coaching and academy system has been overhauled every three years; millions have been poured in; state-of-the-art training grounds have been built; we have more video suites than Hollywood and coaches with badges coming out of their arses. And where has all this got us? Exactly.

Coaching methods go in and out of fashion. They follow someone, or some system that seems to have cracked it, till it no longer works. Coaching methods are hard to transfer from one country or even one club to another. What works with one person might not work with another. You can’t bottle it, or even describe it. But it has to be done. Raw talent can’t be allowed to lie there, playing with itself. Oh, it’s all such a mystery.

Our Prem players are paid millions, even the cloggers, so you would think simple economics would play a part in these hard times –more, not fewer, young players should be coming through. The obvious explanation: lack of talent.

These things go in cycles. Look at Belgium, with a population of only 11 million, producing excellent players, running away with their World Cup group. Greece, also a country of 11 million, won the Euro 2004 and Denmark, which is even smaller, with a population of five and a half million, won it in 1992. For England, population 53 million: nada since 1966. Our time must come, I constantly tell myself.

What if the real reason is that our players don’t want to win? The handful who do come through get carried away with their flash cars, convinced they’ve made it. But when the knocks come, they are unwilling to fight harder, as Gareth Bale did. Spoiled, our modern youth, convinced that they’re owed a living.

More men watched The Great British Bake Off on telly than watched Arsenal against Fenerbahçe – 1.92 million as against 1.72 million. It’s a victory for feminism, so my wife immediately declared. Not sure about her logic but it’s awfully worrying.

It was, though, a very boring game, with the result never in doubt.

“Don’t forget,” she added, “Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote once: ‘There is nothing I hate more than a masculine man.’”

It used to be thought pretty sissy when I were a lad, blokes cooking, pinnies flapping. Now they’re all at it. My son and my son-inlaw both do the cooking in their families. Foony people.

Instead of being out in the street playing football under the lamp posts till bedtime, as I was, as nature intended, our soppy new generation is either in the kitchen or slumped in front of the telly watching other men cooking.

Greg, you’ll have to get a grip.

Is England rubbish at football? Image: Getty

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 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

Photo: Getty
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If the left leaves it to David Cameron, we'll have Brexit for sure

Only an upbeat, leftwing case can keep Britain in the European Union.

After months flapping and hesitation, and with much of the reporting and detail so dull that it has barely penetrated the consciousness of even those who speak the language of ‘directives’ and treaty provisions, the EU referendum is upon us. With David Cameron signalling concrete outcomes for negotiations, we seem to be set for June, whatever the protests from opposition parties about the date being too close to local and national elections.  

Cameron’s deal, whose most substantive element consists of denying in-work benefits to European citizens, exemplifies the kind of debate that Conservative strategists want to create: a tedious, labyrinthine parochialism, blending the EU’s procedural dullness with an unquestioned mythology of the little Englander. Try actually reading the various letters, let alone the draft decisions, that Cameron extracted from Donald Tusk, and the agreement turns to putty in your head. But in summary, what Cameron is negotiating is designed to keep the EU debate as an in-house affair within the right, to continue and formalise the framing of the debate as between two strains of anti-migrant sentiment, both of them backed by big business.

The deal may be reactionary, but it is also mediocre in its scope and impact. The worries that many of us had in the leftwing pro-In camp, that Cameron’s deal would push back freedom of movement and working and environmental protections so far that we would be unable to mobilise for continued membership of the EU, can now be put to bed. Quite the opposite of allowing Cameron's narrative to demoralise us, the left must now seize an opportunity to put imagination and ideas back at the heart of the referendum debate.

The British political landscape in which that debate will play out is a deceptively volatile environment. Party allegiance is at a nearly all time low. Inequality is growing, and so is the gap between attitudes. The backbone of the UKIP vote – and much of the Out vote – will come from a demographic that, sometimes impoverished by the legacy of Thatcherite economic policy, sees itself as left behind by migration and change. On top of the class war, there is a kind of culture war underway in today’s Britain: on one side those who see LGBT rights, open borders and internationalism as the future; on the other side, those who are scared of the future. About the only thing these groups have in common with one another is their anti-establishment instincts, their total disdain and mistrust of politics as usual.

The only political movement to have broken through the fog of cynicism and disillusionment in British politics has come from the left. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the leadership of the Labour has unleashed something new - and while large parts of the press, and some Labour backbenchers, have portrayed this rise as a crusade of the “croissant eating” metropolitan elite, the reality is very different. The rise of the new Labour left has given voice to a renewed socialist and working class politics; its explicitly radical, outsider approach has given it traction across the social divides – among the young looking for a future, and among Labour’s old base. 

A politics of hope – however vague that term might sound – is the only real answer to the populist Euroscepticism that the Out campaign will seek to embody. Radical politics, that proposes an alternative narrative to the scapegoating of migrants, has to find voice in the course of this referendum campaign: put simply, we need to persuade a minimum wage worker that they have more in common with a fellow Polish migrant worker than they do with their employer; we need to persuade someone on a social housing waiting list should blame the privatisation of the housing market, not other homeless families. Fundamentally, the real debate to be had is about who the public blames for social injustice: that is a question which only the left can satisfactorily answer.

The outsider-led volatility of British politics gives the EU referendum a special kind of unpredictability. For voters who have lost faith in the political establishment – and who often have little materially to lose from Brexit – the opportunity to deliver a blow to David Cameron this summer will be tempting. The almost consciously boring, business-dominated Britain Stronger In Europe campaign makes a perfect target for disenfranchised public sentiment, its campaigning style less informed by a metropolitan elite than by the landed gentry. Its main weapons – fear, danger and uncertainty – will work on some parts of the electorate, but will backfire on others, much as the Better Together campaign did in the Scottish referendum.

Last night, Another Europe is Possible held a launch meeting of about a hundred people in central London - with the backing of dozens of MPs, campaigners and academics across the country. It will aim to provide a radical, left wing voice to keep Britain in the EU.

If Britain votes to leave the EU in June, it will give the Right a mandate for a renewed set of attacks on workers’ rights, environmental protections, migrants and freedom of movement. But without an injection of idealism and radicalism,  an In vote will be a mandate for the status quo - at home and in Brussels. In order to seize the real potential of the referendum, the left has to approach the campaign with big ideas and demands. And we have to mobilise.