American sports fans have very short memories and a tendency towards hyperbole when it comes to our favorite teams. I am at no less fault than any other fan, having excitedly deemed that Eli Manning had truly “arrived” last week after out-dueling Tom Brady only to watch him toss two interceptions against the 49ers and reestablish himself as an enigma in my mind. This phenomenon can also be observed in America’s complete dismissal of the NBA following the lockout, despite just completing one of the most exciting seasons in the sport’s history and a cast of recognizable stars unrivaled in any other American sport. It can be seen again in analyst Merril Hoge dismissing the ’07 Patriots, ’99 Rams, 90’s Cowboys, and 80’s 49ers to proclaim the 2011 Packers have the best offense in the past 25 years. This is the nature of sport in America, but even we come up short when it comes hyperbole present in the British media. Especially when it comes to the English national football team.
Despite “only” winning one World Cup, England is always considered among the top teams in the world. And since they haven’t won a major trophy since the 1966 World Cup, they are often viewed as underachievers. You need only look at the recent “golden generation” in English football. Players like John Terry, Frank Lampard, Steve Gerrard, and Rio Ferdinand were supposed to usher in a period of unparalleled international success due to their individual dynamism. Unfortunately, they always came up a bit short. And sometimes they came up wayyy short, as they did during the 2010 World Cup. These things happen, but the British media and English football fans treat every game as if it is a World Cup final. When England wins, they are the pride of the nation and the establishing themselves as the greatest footballing nation in the world. When England draws, even against top competition, they are a disappointment. When England loses, the players have shamed their nation and don’t deserve to wear the Three Lions crest upon their chest. An unwarranted amount of pressure is placed upon the athletes due to the overwhelming public scrutiny, and it is little wonder the team often fails on the international stage.
I bring this up because England defeated Spain 1-0 in an international friendly this weekend. England was without a number of their most iconic players (Terry, Ferdinand, Gerrard, & Wayne Rooney), and still managed to do enough to beat the current European and World Champions. Honestly, England should be proud of defeating a Spanish team featuring it’s top XI. It was quite the accomplishment, but it must be tempered with the facts that it was a friendly, the game was played at Wembley, and Spain dominated possession throughout (71% vs. 29%). Spain played the better game, but England capitalized on their best chance of the day, so they won. However, fans and media members in England now have the Three Lions winning the 2012 European Championship. The pressure upon the athletes has been ratcheted up several notches and England will inevitably experience a let down. When that inevitability occurs, the same athletes being lauded as princes will become the scourge of a nation. It is unrealistic and unfair to the athletes, but such is sport in England.
Right now there isn’t such an attachment to a national team in America as there is in England, and that is probably a result of the sports we emphasize in our country. However, it is not hard to imagine America joining the English in their level of fanaticism some day. Hopefully I never come to love/hate Eli Manning and the Giants that much.