Football’s Coming Home – Why Britain Gave Away Baseball But May Never Recapture Football
Multibillionaire Warren Buffet gets very angry with his fellow entrepreneurs. Not all of them, just the ones who claim that luck had nothing to do with their success. He points out that all successful entrepreneurs, himself included, have been incredibly lucky to be born with talents that are vastly over valued by the world at large. Before the explosion in computer technologies, geeks worked in labs or got boring dead end accountancy jobs. They didn’t get disgustingly rich by founding social media empires.
It’s not just entrepreneurs who get paid vast sums of money for talents and abilities that the world at large vastly overvalues. After computer geeks and singers, the next highly paid group in this bracket has to be Sportsmen. As a Brit, the most perplexing example of this type has to be Baseball Players.
Britain invented Baseball, and for that we are truly sorry. No, really we did. It’s mentioned in Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey”, a book which was published 40 years before Baseball’s official invention in America. It’s also mentioned in diaries and rulebooks 50 years before Northanger Abbey. At the end of the day though, Britain didn’t like Baseball so we gave it willingly to America.
We didn’t give Baseball away in its entirety though. We kept a tiny remnant of it in the form of Rounders. It’s exactly like Baseball, except that it’s only played by little girls under the age of ten. Rounders is a prime example of Mr Buffet’s principle of luck and ability colliding in an explosion of money. If you are a young man fortunate enough to be born in the USA with an innate talent for Rounders, fame and adulation and hot and cold running dollars await. If you are a young man born in Britain and are unfortunate enough to have an innate talent for Rounders, you’d better not let anyone know. That talent and putative pleasure in playing the game will be kicked the fuck out of you very quickly. Literally and very physically by your fellow schoolboys. Probably also by your PE Teacher.
Britain has given world many other sports. Cricket and Rugby are two examples. We gave away these sports for different reasons to Baseball. We gave Baseball away because we thought it was stupid and pointless. Though as stupid and pointless games go, Cricket takes a lot of beating. No, we gave away Cricket and Rugby so we’d have someone to play them with when we were abroad administering our Empire.
This worked very well until it became apparent that every nationality we taught these sports started kicking our arses at them. Very unsporting, we thought. The ultimate pain we suffered as a nation though, was when we gave the world The Ultimate Game. The Beautiful Game. Football.
Football has an ultimate prize. The World Cup. It’s not like The World Series. Every country in the world actually plays it. England has only won it once, back in 1966. Nearly 50 years ago. In term of trophies, it might as well have been back in 1066.
The World Cup is almost upon us once again. The excitement is rising like spring sap at the possibility of England lifting that elusive solid gold trophy for a second time. This is never going to happen. Though it wouldn’t be the same trophy anyway. Brazil won the original in perpetuity in 1970 and it was stolen in 1983, never to be seen again.
Back in ’66, we didn’t pay our players very much. There was a financial incentive to win The World Cup. Be in the winning team and you could write your own blank cheque to endorse whatever you liked. Now our football players earn more in a month than the ’66 England Squad could have earned in their entire careers.
Also, when it comes to World Cup time, the world’s other teams no longer have to try and watch films of old matches to analyse our strengths and weaknesses. They already know them because half of the players in the Premiere League are from those other countries anyway. No matter how hard we try, this principle doesn’t seem to work the other way around. So it all seems to boil down to how hard we try.
Not terribly hard would appear to be the answer. The World Cup is in Brazil this year. That country lives and breathes football. Every little boy can be seen kicking a ball about on every street corner. Talent is recognized, nurtured and then ruthlessly sifted. In a spiritual sense, this year, football really is coming home.
In England, we don’t nurture our talent, we just rely on being able to import it. England’s World Cup Dream? They think it’s all over? It is now. And we haven’t played a single match. But that doesn’t extinguish a little spark flaring up a tiny flame of hope in even my cynical chest when the football starts. And I don’t even like football.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014