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

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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