A hideous shipwreck of year, for me personally, with the sole and comparative comfort being that 2007 is not quite over: the first part of 2008 promises far worse and quickly.
At first sight, the same might be said of sport. The BBC Sports Personality of the Year did its best to put on a brave face. But so little sport is there on the BBC these days that the show had the air of outsiders looking in. And how, exactly, did cousin Lewis fail to win?
It was impossible not to feel for the Scotland national team too, pushed into second by the English rugby boys. But if you agree with me that Scotland have no excuse to regard themselves as giantkillers – France have not always been the better of the two sides and there are practical, copiable reasons why they are now – and think that it was Scotland’s resort to “passion and commitment” that led directly to Italy’s first Hampden goal – and want to know what happened to them in Georgia, exactly – and regard England rugby’s rapid decline as quite disgracefully avoidable – then the real team to feel sorry for is the Great Britain Cycling Team, which performed magnificently in Beijing.
In some respects, 2007 was the best year for English football for some time. The Under 21 national team let noone down, to everyone’s surprise. And that, gentlemen, is how to lose a penalty shoot-out. But the relative success they’ve enjoyed makes me worry about Stuart Pearce becoming the next obviously-not-up-to-it candidate for the big job. Should Pearce come to succeed Fabio Capello in four/eight weeks/months/years (delete as appropriate) he will inspire pride in the dignity with which an obviously fine man will carry himself, in a small number of inspiring victories, and his grace following dismissal. But he will not have had the chance to learn his trade in the lower divisions, if it is there to be learned there in the absence of any English management training or development culture. Pearce won’t refuse his country should the call come. But he deserves considerably better than to be offered it under current conditions.
It was a good year, too, in that the bullshit that has powered the national side for the last two years has been shown up. I won’t go back over the debacle. Simply – enough, enough of players welcoming Capello… it’s in such shocking taste. And so depressing sometimes. Thus, Micah Richards:
I don’t know much about him apart from he is a big name in football and that his managerial record speaks for itself.
I have been told he is a big believer in sports psychology and getting players’ mental preparation right.
Is that important? Well, with what he is bringing to the table, it must be. You don’t win the things he has won without doing something different.
For me, it will be nice to meet him and see what ideas he has got.
Far more diverting were Steve Gibson’s pair of interviews in which he discussed Steve McClaren. First, we had this:
We’re friendly enough now, we shake hands when we meet but he’s never been back since he left and he’s not on my Christmas card list. And we never want to get into that situation again, I don’t want a guy who is always thinking about the next rung on the ladder. If Steve McClaren said to me the grass is green, I would go out and check. He can be charming but he had this streak of ambition that was absolutely bloody ruthless and you can’t go through life always trying to achieve your ambitions at the expense of others. (..)He just saw us as a stepping stone and if you can make enemies at a club like ours, you’re going to be in trouble when things go wrong.
Which was followed by this, apparently in apology!
Despite their accuracy, my comments did not represent my thoughts and assessment of Steve’s five-year period at Middlesbrough.
Utterly unfair, but thoroughly entertaining.
On a more positive note, England is host to the most beautiful sight in the beautiful game: Arsene Wenger’s young Arsenal, playing quite dazzling football in that marvellous new stadium. Is there anyone in the English game really prepared, even now, to understand why there are so few young Englishmen in Wenger’s sides? It’s not just money. I saw this game in a cod-Irish pub in Earls Court in January:
Although what follows was probably the greatest individual performance by a team in 2007, it was certainly the most pointless.
But that, really, is that. The news that Kingsley Amis’s three books on drink are to be republished in one volume by Bloomsbury, introduced by Christopher Hitchens, is of far more moment than anything 2007 or sporting. I’ll be needing that on my park bench.
That, and the news, on a scrap of old newspaper I’m forcing under my shirt for warmth, that David Beckham is England captain once more. If it isn’t real, I’ll just have to dream it.