Heroic Failure

Heroic Failure


Let yourself get hyped.

Tap into that eternal spring of hope.

Shake head at predictable disappointment.

Assign a scapegoat.

Mumble: Of course we lost.

Take pseudo-lament very seriously.

Remind yourself (cynically): The sun also rises.

Keep calm and repeat.

~

In England, over the last 70 years or so, the above pattern of self-dialogue is referring to:

A) a stubborn, longed-for revival of the British Empire

B) the experience of England fans before and after each major soccer tournament

C) both A & B

~

In the 2009 New York Times best seller Soccernomics, which, as a soccer guy, I'm inclined to enjoy, the authors make a connection that I find very culturally interesting. They bring together two English pastimes: world football (soccer) and world domination.

There is an alternative universe in which Beckham didn’t get sent off [1998 World Cup], Banks’s stomach held up [1970 World Cup], the referee spotted Maradona’s handball [1986 World Cup], and so on. In that universe England has won about seven World Cups. Many English fans think they would have preferred that. But it would have deprived the English of a ritual that marks the passing of time much like Christmas and New Year’s and celebrates a certain idea of England: a land of unlucky heroes that no longer rules the world, although it should.
— Soccernomics, p. 12

Some have labeled this quasi-syndrome "heroic failure." And it seems to inflict a very pronounced pain on the English. However, naturally it frames the stories of other peoples and cultures, too.

Either way, to this lover of soccer and cultural narratives, the English story is perpetually fascinating. God Save the Queen—from watching the cycle of another soccer disappointment.

David Beckham (left) draws the red card and is sent off against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. Most England fans already knew the story was written.

Photo: The Times UK.


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