England’s epic World Cup fail could be the making of them

'Who do you support then?' A disgruntled fan after England's defeat to Uruguay
23 Jun 2014 @ 9.13 pm
| Opinion

'Who do you support then?' A disgruntled fan after England's defeat to Uruguay
‘Who do you support then?’ A disgruntled fan after England’s defeat to Uruguay. Photograph: YouTube

Miles On Monday

The England football team have had a disappointing time in Brazil. They played well, but were beaten, by Italy, and despite Wayne Rooney’s goal, were overwhelmed by the skill of Luis Suarez playing for Uruguay last Thursday (June 19).

It was one of England’s most dismal performances in a World Cup.

Normally, we can expect to get to the final 16 or 8 countries. But this time, we won’t be hanging around Brazil for too long. When Costa Rica beat Italy, it confirmed England’s exit.

The nation, it seems, was gutted last Thursday evening. The following day, I listened with amusement to the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio 2. One caller said how their young son had torn up his Suarez football stickers.

This seemed childish… but the annoyed person was, erm, a child. The same excuse could not be applied to those people who took to Twitter to vent their hysteria, as The Daily Star reported.

Quite how football can become a focus for so much rage, hate and male impotence is anybody’s guess. Men project so many of their fears and fantasies onto football, and it’s clear that some of them do not realise what they are doing.

The Twitter Trolls who have hurled abuse at Suarez in the last few days show themselves to be mean-spirited, small minded and unpleasant.

With pressure on both Roy Hodgson and Steven Gerrard to consider their futures, the words of ex-England Manager Graham Taylor should be remembered. “Just make sure you don’t lose,” he said, when asked to give advice to his replacement.

(Taylor’s recent television ads had me guffawing with laughter last week. At least the man can laugh at himself, unlike those puking bile on social media.)

In fact, failure is no bad thing. It teaches us humility, empathy and compassion for others and leads us to follow the great example set by Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

If all we do is succeed, we are in trouble – we forget our manners, our contrition and lose our ability to look at ourselves with clarity and honesty. Winning is great, but too much of it is disastrous.

I once heard James Jones, now Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, tell a story about a baby whose parents wished their child would never feel pain.

The wish, said Jones, was granted, and the baby grew up to be the worst tyrant the world had ever seen.

It was an allegory, but contained a strong dose of truth. Life without failure makes us cold, uncaring people. Failure teaches us valuable lessons in the varied colours of life’s tapestry.

Relationships go wrong, illness lays us low, jobs come to an end. Sometimes the darkest hours are also the turning points, the moments when we realise what we have done wrong, and resolve to do better.

Sometimes, failure spurs us to rise up and try harder.

In June 2008, J K Rowling gave a fantastic speech to the great and good at Harvard University.

Rowling had seen huge success with her bestselling Harry Potter books, but addressing Harvard, she spoke about the benefits of failure. It was a brave and moving speech.

Rowling was unemployed, living in a small flat in Edinburgh with a broken marriage behind her and a tiny baby to care for.

“I had no idea how far the tunnel extended,” she said. She went on to describe how failure led her to strip away everything that didn’t matter.

“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life. Failure taught me things that I could have learned no other way.”

If Greg Dyke’s grand ambition for England to win the World Cup in 2022 is to be realised (and I do not think it’s impossible) this summer may be a turning point for England.

The players, managements and fans may think long and hard about what has to change. And the recent frustrations in Rio may, like Rowling’s problems, become the foundation.

Let’s not disown failure. Sometimes it can lead to fantastic things.