The Real Business of the Summer
Although I am Welsh and an ex-rugby player, I still want the English football team to win international competitions, even, perhaps, at the expense of Wales. I can admit to this feeling because in soccer England has a much better chance of winning a trophy. It`s over fifty years since the Welsh squad, which included the legendary brothers, Mel and John Charles and Ivor and Len Allchurch, played in our only appearance in the World Cup finals in 1958.
Of course, it`s a different matter when Wales play England at rugby.
So, as I write this post in the aftermath of our Suarez-inspired defeat, and our departure from the competition via Costa Rica`s surprise victory over Italy, I am sad but not gutted. Perhaps, over the years, I've come to expect the dashing of my unrealistic hopes. 1966 seems such a long time ago.
We played well against Italy and deserved a draw. Unfortunately, we stuttered against Uruguay and deservedly lost. Slip-ups in defence cost us both games after we had twice hauled ourselves back into contention. It's truly a global game now, if Costa Rica can beat Italy, and Spain, the world champions, also fail to progress beyond the group stage.
If it means an early return home, at least we can concentrate on the real business of the summer, that is, the foray into the transfer market to assemble a squad capable of doing well in the Championship ... and to off-load the dross.
Naturally, while fans like to see their national team do well, I would argue, if somewhat controversially, that far higher in their order of priorities is the success of their club. Indeed, I am on record as having bargained with the footballing gods to allow WW to stay in the PL (and, when that didn`t work, in the Championship) in return for the Welsh rugby team losing every match in the Six Nations tournament.
Why is that? It must be due to the influence of the solid local loyalties with their deeper roots over more amorphous national ones. I was born a Welshman but grew up 8 miles from Molineux and saw the team week in, week out from the age of nine, sixty years ago. I only watched the Llanelli Scarlets play rugby when my parents took me to Wales to visit our relatives, so there was no competition.
It helped that not only was the WW team of the fifties the best in the land but arguably the best in Europe as a result of the success achieved against all-comers in floodlit encounters at Molineux. But, it would not have mattered had the team been rubbish. The immediacy of the experience, reinforced by regular visits to watch the lads play, imprinted itself indelibly on my consciousness, even when I had to move many miles away for work.
I supported England in soccer but occasional internationals played at distant Wembley, which I never saw in person and rarely viewed on a neighbour`s T.V., did not have the same attraction. I saw even fewer Welsh games. But I did see Wolves win the F.A. Cup in 1960.
I also knew the Wolverhampton players better than many of the English internationals, though, naturally, I cheered on the Wolves contingent in the team- Williams, Slater, Wright, Flowers, Clamp, Broadbent, Wilshaw, Hancocks and Mullen, for instance - when they played for their country.
But, I identified them with Wolves rather than England because I watched them every other week at Molineux not at Wembley. I stood within feet of them behind the goal on the South Bank and had badges of all of them pinned to my old gold and black scarf.
Most fans do not habitually wear their national identity on their sleeve, merely dusting it off, together with the crosses of St. George (or the Welsh Red Dragon), whenever an international tournament looms. How soon will the flags be removed from the cars and put into storage, along with the nationalistic sentiment, now that England have been so unceremoniously dumped out of the competition?
On the other hand, the focus on the events in Brazil has not made us forget our concern for the fortunes of WW. Speculation surrounding the potential signings has continued unabated on blogsites. if it appears more muted than is customary at this time of year, it is not due to the fans` lack of interest but rather because among the cadre of soccer managers the transfer market is in suspended animation until the competition is over ...or, at least, England's involvement in it.
In this respect, England`s exit means that we can now return to what really matters: building a WW team that is competitive in the Championship and even challenge for promotion. Coincidently, KJ has just returned from his holidays (had he anticipated England`s demise?), which means that he can get on with the task straight away.
I look forward to real progress being made over the course of the next couple of weeks without the distraction of worrying about results on the other side of the world. If I can write with comparative equanimity about England's poor performance, a bad season for Wolves would leave me feeling really gutted.