Two royal weddings, a Diamond Jubilee and now the birth of Will and Kate’s child – if that isn’t enough to stir up any feelings of patriotism then I don’t know what is. But is our sport making us feel quite the same way at the moment?
There is a strong argument that British sport has never been better. Last year we had the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, the best the world has ever seen (according to me anyway), in which new heroes were discovered and existing ones were elevated to sporting immortality. The success of the athletes led to a feel-good wave that swept across the nation and still seems to be lingering now, with the Anniversary Games at the Olympic Park this weekend likely to stir memories from last year and, alongside the World Athletics Championships next month, create huge excitement for next year’s Commonwealth Games.
Andy Murray was one of those for whom London 2012 created a god-like protection. Having emotionally lost the Wimbledon final to the legendary Roger Federer, Murray bounced back superbly on the same court just 4 weeks later to defeat him and win gold. This win turned him someone many perceived as just a Scot into a true Brit and he won over the hearts of the nation. Of course, this could have been only temporary if he failed to deliver in Majors but, to everyone’s great relief, he then won the US Open a few months later with a superb victory over the seemingly unstoppable Novak Djokovic. But it was this year’s victory over the same man at Wimbledon that truly sent the nationalistic tennis-fever through the roof. He became the first British man to win the home event for 77 years, securing the Major that he and all of the British public wanted to win. No matter what he does now, Andy Murray will forever be remembered as the man who finally broke the duck and won Wimbledon for Great Britain.
Another man who broke an even greater stronghold was Bradley Wiggins as he became the first British man to win the Tour de France in its 99-year history. The outspoken mod captured the hearts of the nation with his dominant victory in the Alps, although it’s fair to say a large percentage of the population wouldn’t have known he was actually born in Belgium! Still, even for those who did know, it didn’t really matter as the cyclist had already won a large number of medals for GB on the track at previous Olympics. His victory in the Time Trial at London 2012 just a week after the Tour sent the country into overdrive, with everyone going mad for Wiggo and led to him being voted Sports Personality of the Year for 2012.
What slipped most people’s minds, however, was that he wasn’t the only British road cyclist to do well on the Tour and in the Time Trial. Chris Froome (who again wasn’t born in Britain but actually in Kenya) was second only to his team-mate in France as Wiggins was team leader, while also securing a hard-fought bronze during the Games. The shy, reserved Froome, however, was forgotten by many as Wiggo found a place in the heart of a large majority of the British public. That was until just the other day, when he became the second Brit to win the Tour de France in as many years. In many ways his victory was even more impressive that Wiggins’ as he had to fight harder due to a series of problem within his team. Although press coverage around his success is not quite as frantic, Froome’s victory has further increased the popularity of cycling in the country and, with the Tour starting in Yorkshire in 2014, this could become even greater.
Britain also had a lot of success in the golfing world in 2012, with Ian Poulter almost single-handedly winning Europe the Ryder Cup while Rory McIllroy claimed the US PGA Championship. Justin Rose then secured the US Open just last month to carry on the success, but not everything is plain sailing at the moment. McIllroy’s game has fallen apart this year, with the Northern Irishman failing to make the cut at the recent Open Championship at Muirfield, while Lee Westwood yet again threw away a Major win at the same event. Leading by two shots after 3 rounds, he carded a four-over-par 75 to finish at +1. Poulter’s late rally to finish level with Westwood provided the British with some hope but the overall feeling was one of disappointment that Westwood had yet again failed to deliver whilst no-one else was even close to the eventual winner, Phile Mickelson.
Things have happened the other way round in the cricketing world though. 2012 started off appallingly, with the boys being thrashed in the Test series against Pakistan before struggling to tie with Sri Lanka. The summer didn’t get much better, despite an easy victory over the West Indies, as the might of Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and other South Africans relegated our boys from the No. 1 ranking in Test cricket. They then limped out of the World T20 World Cup at the Super Eight stage, whilst the women failed to retain their World Cup title at the start of this year. Things did get better for the men, though, as they recorded a historic Test win in India at the back end of the year. A dire away series in New Zealand followed but this couldn’t have been further from what happened in the reverse fixture in May as England annihilated the Kiwis. This served as a perfect warm-up for the Ashes and, after two enthralling games that have both gone England’s way, cricket is now the sport that everyone is talking about again. As well as this series, England then travel away to Australia over the winter while the women contest for their own Ashes next month – a 3-0 England whitewash would be something that most English fans have dreamed of for so many years and, if it happens, could help propel the sport to being the national game once again.
It’s ironic that the nation’s favourite and most-played game is the only major sport where the national teams are failing to deliver. Last year’s European Championships saw England get knocked out in the inevitable way – on penalties! Truth be told, their football was dire and, except for a Jack Wilshere-inspired victory over Brazil, has not gotten any better over the last year. Is it down to the manager and his tactics or a lack of players good enough to represent our nation? I think it’s a mixture of both – Roy Hodgson’s brand of football is indeed very boring while an influx of money and foreign stars into the Premier League means young home-grown players are getting very limited playing time. This was proved by the way both the U-21s and U-20s flopped at their respective tournaments this summer, while the U-19s didn’t even qualify for their Euros. This was compounded by the dismal performance by the women earlier this month, proving that British football has a long way to go before the public can even think of winning an international trophy.
However, this is just one sport where our country isn’t doing particularly well. On the whole British sport is in an extremely good place – I haven’t even mentioned the British and Irish Lions’ superb victory over Australia or the success of GB’s rowers and track cyclists so far this year. If we carry on like this, what’s to say Britain will one day be seen as the greatest sporting nation in the world?