Boys' done good: Jack Wilshere and Frank Lampard of the England team after the Costa Rica game, 24 June. Photo: Getty
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Why we should actually be proud of England’s World Cup performance

I am honestly and truly now coming to the conclusion that England did astonishingly well. In fact, they overachieved. 

Forgotten they were there? If you popped out to put the kettle on, or went to the lavatory, or just blinked, you probably missed that England were at the World Cup. I am slowly getting over it, just as I have survived other tragedies in my life. You do. You have to. Life goes on.

The other trick is the Glad Game. Thank God our lads are back home early doors, they can have a nice quiet holiday, which they jolly well deserve, after all those exertions, and be fit and bursting to go when the Prem begins, ready to delight us once again.

There is also Defiance, that does help in trying times – maintaining it was someone else’s fault, or really it wasn’t a defeat after all, but a victory. I am honestly and truly now coming to the conclusion that England did astonishingly well. In fact, they overachieved, so we should be proud of them. This is how it works.

Last season, only 32.26 per cent of the players who turned out in the Prem were English, which everyone said was disgraceful, not fair to our lads, these foreigners, coming here, taking our Bentleys, driving our women.

One thing this World Cup has shown is just how many good players there are who have not been able to get into a top-half Premiership team, unlike our own brave lads who every week are stars of Liverpool, Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Southampton.

Yet at the World Cup we have the likes of Bryan Ruiz of Costa Rica, who got chucked out of Fulham, Leroy Fer of Holland, who has hardly made it at Norwich, Gary Medel of Cardiff City and Joel Campbell of Costa Rica, who turns out to be an Arsenal player but has been loaned out most of his young life to, oh I dunno, somewhere in Europe.

All these players have had a great World Cup, their teams so much more successful than England, yet back home, playing in our leagues, Our Brave Lads have seen them all off, kept them out of the top teams. Which proves, you must agree, that English players must be really, really good.

There are 32 top teams in the world – based on the number of countries that got to the World Cup – and England are about the 30th best, as they did get a point. Do not forget that.

The Premiership, so we are told, is the world’s best and richest league, has the pick of the top players from all over the world. You would therefore expect English players to make up only 5 per cent of the league. This will eventually happen. Perhaps if the Prem continues to get even richer, there will be no English players at all. So, having 32 per cent English in the current Prem, when there are so many better players out there, some of them languishing in our lower leagues, is a terrific achievement. So well done, England. I feel better already.

More boring footie voices

I don’t know why everyone has been rubbishing Phil Neville for his banal comments and horrible voice. When Gary Lineker started, his Leicester accent was mocked, as was Adrian Chiles’s Brummie brogue. Now that we have grown to love them both dearly, we’ve forgotten their accents. Jonathan Pearce is still my pet hate, because he’s convinced he is the cleverest, most knowledgeable, most imperious football commentator ever. Robbie Savage makes me smile, not just his hair, clothes and grammar but his determination not to be clever or astute, but to rant on like a pub bore, repeating everything: “That was a pen, definite pen. Ref, that was a pen, it was a pen . . .”

Andy Townsend has his critics but I did like him telling us that the Belgium manager is “looking at his wrist on his watch”. He clearly believes he’s incisive and analytical, that we’re all hanging on his every word, as if we can’t see the game, or the telly, and it’s his duty to tell us what is happening and to comment on it, usually by saying: “That’s betta, that is betta.”

At the start of the Costa Rica-Greece game, the ITV commentator told us that “our referee is Australian tonight”, which made me wonder what he was on other nights. Does he make out to be Scottish or Russian, depending on whether free Scotch or vodka is being served? Or dress up as Portuguese when they’re playing fado?

What he should have said was, hmm, it did take me some time to work out, “Tonight our referee is Australian.” No, that would still have had pedants picking holes. “Tonight’s referee is Australian.” That would have sorted it.

Oh, there’s lots of good fun still to be had in the World Cup, even without super, fab Ingerland.

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 02 July 2014 issue of the New Statesman, After God Again

Getty Images.
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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.