Sunday, 7 January 2007

True Grit Doesn't Always Mean True Brit

I was flicking through the papers at the weekend when I came across this curious article in the Sunday Telegraph written by Patrick Barclay.

West Ham take note: true grit doesn't always mean true Brit
By Patrick Barclay

As West Ham rounded off a thrilling first season back at the top level with a desperately narrow defeat in the FA Cup final, much was made of their Britishness. And not without reason, for Alan Pardew had gathered an unusually indigenous group. Of the 14 who did duty against Liverpool in the Millennium Stadium, only Yossi Benayoun and Lionel Scaloni were foreigners. Of the 12 Britons in the squad (to narrow it further), only Danny Gabbidon and Christian Dailly came from outside England. And (to narrow it even further than that) no fewer than eight of Pardew's unlucky heroes were London-born. So what a substantial number of critics were saying, basically, is that here were a bunch of close-knit lads who knew what English football was about — come to think of it, Pardew kept saying it as well — and could be relied upon to stand shoulder to shoulder when the going got tough.

Then the going got tough. In other words, a summer of basking in praise ended and the players, their London character enhanced by the return of Hayden Mullins and Lee Bowyer, were asked to compete in the Premiership again. Even the club's foolish acquisition of the Argentines Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano could not split the ranks. Shoulder to shoulder, they entered the fray. You need only look at the league table to see how they have done. Their first match of the new year was a 6-0 defeat at Reading incurred through the worst Premiership performance, especially in terms of attitude, you could imagine. Had the team been full of foreigners — had they been, say, Arsenal — we should no doubt have been obliged to read thinly veiled suggestions that their lack of resilience had something to do with nationality. Because West Ham are English, however, the tendency is to identify individuals such as Nigel Reo-Coker and make them scapegoats for the demise of Pardew and other turmoils.

I am not saying West Ham have sunk like stones this season because they are English and have therefore, as poorer professionals than Pardew might naively have imagined, let the nice things that were said about them last season go to their heads instead of stoking fires of ambition in their hearts. True, the English national team did spend last summer looking like such wasters, people who believed their own publicity would win them the World Cup — and appeared to come home none the wiser. True, it was a wise French coach who once rhetorically asked me: ''Why is it that, when a French or Italian boy has a few good games in the first team, he trains even harder so he will progress to the next level, yet when an English or Scottish boy breaks through he treats it an excuse to light a cigar and break open the champagne?" He was, of course, generalising. And so am I. Not for a minute am I saying that the English, once so renowned for their fighting spirit, have become a nation of head-droppers. It could equally be pointed out that there was a wholesome English (and Scottish and Irish) flavour about the very Reading who thumped West Ham. All I am saying is that it might be a good time to give the mindless xenophobia a rest.

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