With the whole of the UK gripped by World Cup hope yesterday, and the England footy team finally coming good and getting through to the knockout stages of the tournament, I’ve been amused to hear the trepidation in people’s voices as they talk about England facing Germany on Sunday afternoon. OK, England teams haven’t done that well against Germany in the World Cup since 1966, but why do we seem to expect our teams to fail?
One of my earliest football memories was that infamous quarter-final in Mexico ’70, the first World Cup I was really old enough to understand, and screaming inside my head at my mother as she tried to “manage my expectations”, telling me that England-aren’t-expected-to-win-and-they’ve-done-very-well-to-get-that-far-oh-look-the-Germans-have-scored-well-it’s-all-over-now-England-are-going-to-LOSE-never-mind. In fact I seem to recall that some of the screaming squirmed out of my head, resulting in some rather sharp words, most unlike me as a ten-year-old.
This national expectation that our sports teams are going to lose just has to rub off on the players. All the success literature, all the evidence in fact, points to the fact that sportspeople who expect to win generally do, and those who expect to lose generally do. The only exception to this rule is when a team is so out-gunned that they have no attachment to the result, and set out to enjoy playing a good game, and with their egos out of the way they find that mastery they’d been lacking, and cause an upset. So with half a nation expecting the England team to lose, however good a coach Capello is (or isn’t) he can’t insulate the players from that. So the expectation becomes a reality.
So I was amused and delighted to hear the much-reformed DJ Chris Evans say on the radio this morning “Ah well, we might as well beat ’em now as in the final!”