Second Best is Best Oct 26, '07 2:17 AM
What a week it's been! We had four chances for glory this week, but it ended (yet again) in tears, with the sounds of 'plucky Brit' ringing in out ears.
First, Andy Murray played Rafael Nadal in the Spanish Open, a tournament he was given some hopes of winning. The Spanish crowd gave him a standing ovation, not because he had beaten their champion (he lost in straight sets), but because he pushed him to his best tennis and could, but for the odd stroke of luck, have won.
Next, unhappy England fail all but, to qualify for the soccer World Cup, thanks to a few dubious decisions (the manager's included). Macedonia, Croatia and Israel may yet rescue them, but that bit of luck will probably be denied us. England's gallant band of supporters (including that band) kept up the encouragement however to the final whistle and were praised by onlookers for their untiring efforts.
Then, England lose in a World Cup final full of grit and rugby that was more heroic than attractive. Again, a decision or two might have helped us a little. Again, respect to England and its supporters, as French police remove from the Champs Elysees the riot police they deployed a few days earlier against the French supporters.
Finally, having led the championship table for most of the season, Lewis Hamilton, leader of the pack on the day, fell to seventh place, through no fault of his own (still clocking the fastest lap time on the day), and missed winning the F1 championship by one point. A couple of different team decisions on tyres and he'd have stormed home. As you will have expected by now, he received the highest accolades for all he has achieved this year (coming second).
But is this all that it's about? Is winning everything? Don't we still believe that it's not about winning, but really all about taking part? Well, no, we don't actually and frankly we should have done better. There were very, very few faults in the play of our opponents in any of the above sports. We have only ourselves to blame for failing. But is that all?
Look at the side statistics. School children all over Britain have been signing on to learn tennis and are beginning to apply themselves - training regimes, diet, exercises, etc - in a way that never happened when I was at school. England's travelling soccer supporters number at least 10,000. Even in Japan, when I was there for the 2002 World Cup, there were 11,000 registered England supporters there for the month. Half the kids I see in the street (and many of their dads) wear Beckham football shirts and the Beckham football academies are reportedly flourishing. As for the rugby, admittedly it was just across the Channel, but 60,000 England supporters were in Paris on Saturday. Not only that, but the flags were out on houses and cars through England, and the whole of the country unable to travel to France were sat glued to their TV sets for the evening. On the green opposite my house, I now see as many egg-shaped balls as round. Then on Sunday, not only were TVs on all over the country, but viewing figures were up 70% on F1 programmes during the year and the sports programmes unable to stake transmission rights were none the less forced to give regular updates on the progress of the races. Everyone knows the name Lewis Hamilton; few could name more than 2 or 3 FI drivers last year. And I see that go-cart tracks (where Hamilton started) are currently packed with wannabe kids.
In short, it is the sports that have won. Of course we want to win. Of course second is no good. Of course we'll win next time. But meanwhile, isn't it great that kids are taking to sport in such numbers? I don't know whether we'll produce another Murray, or a Beckham, or a Wilkinson, or a Hamilton, but we are increasing our chances. And isn't it great that there is so much interest in getting fitter and fighting it out on the playing field, rather than on the streets or in the school playground?