(editors note: This piece was written prior to Stuart Lancaster stepping down)
With the Rugby World Cup now a few weeks past it saw yet another nail driven into the coffin of English team sports, courtesy of Australia’s win over Stuart Lancaster’s under-performing side and had an all too familiar scenario of an England squad going out at the group stages without a whimper.
England’s embarrassing exit at their own World Cup didn’t stop just there, not only they did lose to a weakened Wales side and their enemy in Australia, but their failure was even more embarrassing when they became the first host nation in the competition’s 28-year history to go out at the group stage and set up a dead rubber game against Uruguay.
The last 13 months has seen all the men’s national sides in their own respective World Cup’s setting a worrying trend. Where none of England’s national sides progressed through to the knockout stages of the three big tournaments (Football, Cricket or Rugby) as they all went out due to poor performances which were deeply disappointing.
If we go back in time to last year’s World Cup in Brazil it saw England travel to South America to compete in the Football tournament, but in truth they really should have made it to the round of sixteen at the very least especially when looking at it on paper.
When the draw was made and seen them grouped with Uruguay and Costa Rica, it was the ‘easiest’ group in the tournament and should have saw them go through. Those within the media had already plotted their quarter-finals route before a ball had been kicked and had footballing journalists and ex professionals predicting England would get through without too much trouble at all, but as we now know that never happened at all.
With the football team heading home after the first stage of the World Cup finals, it saw a lot of criticism coming the way of manager Roy Hodgson and had his misfiring players and tactics and changes he made being pulled apart by some circles in the media.
Players were condemned by all supporters and the media people back home, with the ‘red top’ newspapers slaughtering them for lack of effort and questioning their commitment in these big tournaments and whether they were just interested in picking up a wage instead of success.
People will always use the excuse of ‘too many foreigners in the English game’, but there is always two ways of looking at things. One is that players abroad cost a heck of a lot less than some of these so called ‘big name’ English players and the most overused phrase in the English game to describe them is that of being ‘World Class’.
You have to go back three tournaments to see the last time an Englishman appeared in an All-star team at any major event, with John Terry being named in the 2006 World Cup dream team in Germany.
The second point to be used and one that seems most likely in my own personal view, is that English players in general and British players in a sense, are not up to a level of their counterparts in Europe or even the world.
After a previous disappointing tournament by England in South Africa back in the 2010 World Cup, the F.A tried to inspire new coaches to have them play a new way and get them to mature the new crop of players in this country quickly as they tried to replicate what Spain have achieved.
Germany struggled for years in their respective tournaments after 1996, but the footballing authorities over there were happy to give the team time and eventually saw their long awaited plans came to fruition, with the Germans winning the World Cup and having players within the game buying into it.
We could see the ‘Three Lions’ somewhere down the road roaring once again, but looking from the outside in it looks a very long way off with everyone associated with England wanting results straight away.
However lacking passion and having no belief are two things that you cannot level against their female counterparts though, as only a few months ago the England Women travelled to Canada for the Women’s World Cup and in all truth, weren’t expected to anything at all at tournament and didn’t have high hopes going into as such of doing too well.
They were led by Mark Sampson, a Welshman who was in charge of Bristol Academy and who led them to a second place finish, their highest ever in the Women’s Super League (WSL) and also took them to two successive Women’s F.A cup finals in tenure.
He had big shoes to fill though with the outgoing Hope Powell stepping down after 15 years in charge of the national side, and who did almost everything on limited resources from the F.A during her time in charge.
Sampson led his side to their third straight World Cup Finals, in which they won all 10 group games and had a brilliant defensive record in qualifying, which saw scoring 52 goals and conceding just one in which came in their final group game against the Ukraine.
They started off their World Cup campaign with a sluggish 1-0 loss to France and followed that up with two successive wins against South American opposition by the same score of 2-1 and saw them moving on into the round of 16 once more.
In the second round they faced Norway in the knockout stages and had the Manchester City duo of Captain Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze both netting in a 2-1 win for the Lionesses, to see England move into the quarter finals for the first time ever.
Momentum is a great thing and saw England’s new found confidence reaching fever pitch with a stunning 2-1 win over the home nation in Canada and set up a semi-final clash with Japan.
Japan was the proverbial red-hot favourites to get the better of England and saw Mark Sampson’s side as the biggest underdogs in the final four. Japan though struggled throughout the contest with the ‘Lionesses’ and saw the Japanese awarded a very controversial penalty to see them go ahead, but Fara Williams then levelled for England and with the game reaching it’s climax, the Japanese looked dead on their feet as extra time approached and as what has been accustomed to with England in the past we saw a heartbreaking incident.
A bizarre fluke of an own goal by Laura Bassett in the 92nd minute saw her help Japan advance through and saw England cruelly missing out on the World Cup Final.
Three days later after their heartbreaking loss in the semi-finals, they faced off against a German side that they had failed to beat in their previous 20 attempts. One thing that saw them gaining popularity back home was their passion and never say die attitude that a few of the male players have been long accused of lacking when it comes to pulling on the ‘Three Lions’ shirt.
The game saw the Lionesses finally laying their past ghosts to rest and beat a German side that was expected to be far too strong for the English side, but instead their battling qualities saw them overcoming German and finished third in the 3rd/4th playoff game, thanks to a Fara Williams penalty in extra time.
England’s tournament was a huge success and has seen the Women’s game getting more coverage with BT Sports doing a great job of promoting the WSL (Women’s Super League), sadly though the BBC haven’t really made more of the Women’s success and despite screening the FA Cup final a month later, they haven’t bothered to try and get the highlights of the European qualifiers.
Turning to Cricket and it has to be said that England are the ‘sleeping giants’ when it comes to the 50 over form of the game. They have been the most frustrating side to follow over the years and yet despite have bagful of talent in them to win the big games, more often than not though they come up short or collapse to dramatic standards.
You have to go back as long ago as 23-years ago for the last time England was make any impression at a World Cup, when they fell to a very good Pakistan team in the World Cup final.
Since then though, they haven’t remotely come close to even repeating that feat as they haven’t even been past the quarter finals or even got out of the group stages either since 1992.
They have had some very poor tournaments and been annihilated by some teams in the past. However the scale of which they performed at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, was embarrassing and beyond disastrous.
England has failed to reach the semi finals in the six previous World Cup’s and they have looked extremely poor and been lacking tactically too, especially when Alastair Cook was in charge as he was far too defensive for the shorter form of the game.
England have reached two finals in the last 11 years though, with a losing display against the West Indies in the ICC Champions Trophy back in 2004 on home soil.
Then In 2010 they faced Australia in the final of the ICC T20 tournament over in the West Indies, and on that occasion saw them finally getting the monkey off their back of trying to win a major final.
The Test matches have saw them flip flop from their one day form, with Ashes wins being more frequent and had them not to long ago earning the tag of the ‘Number One Test playing nation in the world’.
One big plus for England is having Eoin Morgan as captain, as for the World Cup he wasn’t given enough time to put his vision into practice for the tournament down under and was nearly made to be the scapegoat.
But over this past summer they had a great series with NZ and Australia and shown signs of them improving a hell of a lot in a short space of time.
For the England Women’s side, they have shown to be a major force in the game and have always been successful or up or around there when it comes to the crunch. Ever since they beat Australia for the Ashes back in 2005, the Women’s side have just improved and only suffered one or two blips along the way.
2009 saw the World Cup taking place in Australia and despite losing their opening game to the hosts, they would go on to win the tournament beating New Zealand in the final and capturing a major title.
They then became the holders of the Inaugural Twenty/20 World Championships on home soil, with them once again beating New Zealand in the final.
For the World Twenty20 back in 2012, it saw England as big favourites to win the tournament and saw them making it through to the final against their arch enemy in Australia, but on this occasion the Aussies came out on top and ended the English run of major wins.
A year later they travelled to India to defend their World Cup title and saw them having to settle for a 3rd/4th place match with New Zealand, as they needed an Australian win over the West Indies to see a return meeting in the final between the two powerhouses in Women’s cricket in the final group game.
Instead the West Indies pulled off a ‘remarkable’ victory to see them facing off against Australia in the final, while England had to settle with beating the ‘Black Ferns’ to take 3rd place in the tournament and saw a disappointing event for them.
With the recent Rugby World Cup concluding a few weeks ago, if we look at the Women’s Rugby World Cup we see that the current holders of the trophy isn’t that of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa or even a Southern hemisphere team at all.
The current champions are England and seen them crowned champions in 2014 after they defeated a tough Canadian team to lift the trophy for the second time.
England’s Women have dominated the scene in the Northern hemisphere form for many years including a title reign that lasted for 7 straight season, that was up until Ireland broke that streak and hasn’t seen the ‘Red Rose’ nation regaining the title ever since.
The previous World Cup’s have seen England reaching the final and coming second best on three previous occasions, with each time losing out to New Zealand. However the 2014 World Cup saw a different result and finally saw them lifting the title beating Canada 21-9 in France.
The men have in all forms of the ‘big 3’ sports have all massively disappointed in tournaments and in the case of football, a lot of people within media circles and fans alike question their passion and interest for honours.
For cricket and rugby they don’t lack in effort as such, what they do just lack is the ability to put it altogether and also the mental toughness being a bit of a contributing factor.
Of course the last World Cup victory that the men enjoyed was back in Autumn of 2003, with that magical drop goal by Johnny Wilkinson delivering a knock-out blow to the host nation in the Rugby World Cup in Australia, and written themselves into England sporting folklore.
Hopefully in the near future someone can write a new chapter in English sporting history and it not being another case of ‘close, yet so far’.