Too many Englishmen spoil the broth. Well, apparently in world rugby circles they
Or such is the view of Warren Gatland, a New Zealander
who coaches the Welsh national team and will be in charge this summer of the
British and Irish Lions, a touring side made up of players from each of the
four ‘home’ nations, in Australia. As Gatland tells it, in an interview with a London newspaper,
“English players are targeted by other countries. (They are) not always the most popular with other
countries because of their history.
People like having a pop at them.”
Are the English so universally despised, I
wonder? Or is the ‘Gatland phenomenon’
merely a harmless manifestation of friendly sporting rivalry, tinged with a
natural desire by certain former colonies to get one back on the ‘mother
Gatland’s remarks have provoked outrage among some of his
English peers. I’m not inclined to join
As an Englishman of advanced years, I suppose I ought
to a) recognize that we’re widely resented, and b) remember all the various reasons
why. Well, frankly I can’t be bothered on
either count. I prefer to laugh at such
nonsense, to rise magisterially above such trivial skirmishing.
And there, in a few words, you have it, the root of
the problem laid bare: it is bare-faced ARROGANCE, proof positive that we
English still think we rule the world, or ought to, decades after the sun finally
set on the Empire. That we still secretly
long to sail the seven seas at will, that we still long for those desolate
places so beloved in olden days by the Burtons, and the Clives and the
I hesitate to disabuse those who think so, but
actually we don’t. We live in a time
when few people – certainly fewer than ever – have reason to give a moment’s
thought to what the English might be up to, or why. And we don’t care, we really don’t.
Few of us members of Shakespeare’s Happy Breed of
limeys, poms, rosbifs and Sassenachs have the slightest reason to regret the
loss of Empire, or naval power, or global prestige. Most of us below the age of thirty are
scarcely even aware of its existence, that particular aspect of history having
been banished from school curricula.
Most of us, of all ages, are frankly preoccupied with
life’s more mundane aspirations, like earning a decent living, maintaining good
health, surviving to a reasonably mature age and leaving a better world for the
grandchildren – and hoping to each of those ends that this government, any
government, will one day find a cure for our perennially ailing economy.
All of which, I suspect, puts us in the same camp as
just about every other community on the planet.
But still the myth of English ARROGANCE persists.
Scotland’s rugby coach trotted out the A-word
before a recent match against England,
obviously trying to wind us up. It did
the trick, as England
ran out easy winners. At the same
fixture in Edinburgh, the England team is
invariably booed onto the field.
Cricket-loving Aussies will be at it again soon, with two Ashes series
on the schedule this year – especially as England comfortably won the last
Beyond the sporting arena, the president of Argentina
thinks our colonial instincts are not only alive but kicking. I’ve no idea whether she’s right or not (though
if there’s oil around the Falklands/Malvinas, all bets are off). Certain tribal elements in Afghanistan
would agree with her; some of their zealots probably still cherish the British
pith helmets their forebears filched as souvenirs from earlier conflicts.
It’s undeniable that we have given a great many
countries, and not just former colonies, reasons to resent us. A recent survey
concluded that England (for
which read Britain;
yes, even we’re confused) has been involved in more wars than any other
power. All I can say is that they all probably
seemed like a good idea at the time. But
most were so long ago nobody can remember why we fought them, let alone who won. (Hands up those who know anything about the
War of Jenkins Ear.)
If Englishmen tend to assume that we won most of them,
it’s because we did. But don’t ask us to
apologize for what few of us ever knew.
This little diatribe has strayed a long way from Mr.
Gatland’s comments. All I have to say to
him is this: try beating Australia,
or any other team, with an all-Celtic lineup and see where it gets you, mate.
Now, there’s ARROGANCE for you.