Ten reasons to love the Poms
WHEN mounting an argument sure to rub some people up the wrong way - such as, say, listing reasons to love the English on the first day of The Ashes - it can be useful to start by invoking supporting words of wisdom from a unifying, popular figure.
Step forward, Donald Rumsfeld.
The former US Defence Secretary - not exactly of Ghandi-esque stature in global public opinion - had a favourite phrase: that America would be vindicated in “the great sweep of human history”.
In the great sweep of sporting history, the English have been the objects of increasing ridicule. They deserve much of it, especially with their tragi-comic efforts in soccer and cricket during the 1990s. But with the 2009 Ashes series beginning this evening, Australian time, we’re sure to be in for weeks of tiresome jokes about whingeing Poms, underachievers, chokers, yob fans with beer bellies, along with general mirth at moments of English failure.
When Mitchell Johnson gets the ball in hand and eyes off Andrew Strauss in Cardiff before starting his run-up, it might be worth him - and Australians everywhere - pausing for a moment to reflect on England’s place in the great sweep of human history. For England, possibly more than any other nation, deserves respect.
And as one of the 10 reasons below argues, respecting England just might help Australia win The Ashes.
1. The English language
The platform for everything from epic American poetry to sledges about a batsman’s mother - where can you start in praise of this wonderful toolbox? Modern English, with roots in ancient Greek, Latin, Celtic and Scandinavian tongues and softened by the later influence of French, is the undisputed currency of global communication. Despite some of its complex rules it has managed to survive roughly in its current form for 500 years, since Shakespeare’s time, whilst always effortlessly accommodating new shizzle.
2. British comedy
No, it’s not just about Steve Harmison’s first ball in the last Ashes series. The best of English comedy, from Monty Python through The Young Ones to The Office, consistently pushes the boundaries while tackling social issues and is - most importantly - brilliantly funny.
3. The least worst brand of colonialism
Irish comedian Ardal O’Hanlon, best known for his role as Dougal in the TV series Father Ted, was asked once on British television why the English liked seeing the Irish doing well in sport but the warmth wasn’t returned. O’Hanlon responded it was probably something to do with the 800 years of oppression. Cue nervous laughter in the studio. Dead right, I thought.
Growing up in Ireland I thought hating the English was just something everybody did, like going to mass on Sunday. It’s unsurprising given what British authorities did in Northern Ireland, especially during the 1960s and 70s, including opening fire on the crowd during a civil rights march and introducing internment, a counter-terrorism tactic that made CIA rendition of suspected terrorists look civilised. People weren’t quietly spirited away the security forces thought they were up to something - they were just taken off the street and thrown in jail.
But taking enslavement, oppression and murder as the historical realities of all colonial enterprises, compare the outcomes countries the English commandeered to the fates of countries who received special attention from the French, Dutch, or Spanish. If you had to choose a country to be colonised by over the past 500 years, I’d argue you’d choose an army of cricket-playing imperialist tea-drinkers any day.
4. Good manners
Possibly the only good thing to come out of the persistent English social class structure is the sense that there are certain ways you should behave around people.
Etiquette and modesty were defining features of Victorian English society, but even modern Britain has its finishing schools, the inspiration for the recent hit television series Ladette to Lady. Now, while not everyone needs to know how to address the various ranks of the British aristocracy in the tent at a polo match, the Poms have exported useful social conventions. Like saying “please” and “thank you”.
5. The Beatles
Well, not just The Beatles, but them and the tradition they started of global stardom for musicians. Where would modern rock and pop be without the likes of the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, or Eric Clapton? They didn’t just change music, but what it meant to be cool.
6. Great journalism
The term “Fleet Street” is often used as a reference to the cradle of great journalism, from the era when the offices of England’s great newspapers were all based there. English newspapers, in their rabidly competitive market, wrote the manual for much of what constitutes great journalism today, through crusading investigations like the thalidomide series by The Sunday Times in the 1970s to the extraordinary ongoing British MPs’ expenses scandal, led by The Daily Telegraph.
Its tabloid newspapers, like The Sun and the Daily Mail, broke new ground in popular, accessible reporting of news, entertainment and sport. The Sunday tabloids In the digital age, newspapers like The Times and The Guardian have extended their reach to global audiences, while another British brand, the taxpayer-funded BBC, is synonymous around the world with great reporting across television, radio, and the web.
7. The Premiership
The best collection of players, scoring the most stunning goals, for a collection of the greatest teams, in a sporting competition with as proud a history as any. The names of stadiums like Anfield, Old Trafford and even White Hart Lane will make any the hair on a football tragic’s neck stand on end. Manchester Utd, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are teams recognised all over the world and followed by thousands of Australians.
8. Parliamentary democracy
Every now and then Australian politicians babble on about the Westminster system of government, as if it’s some sacred tradition that can’t be tampered with. It’s often used to refer to ministerial accountability, but in truth it’s an admission that the best way to make laws is the English way.
The English invented the novel - Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is considered the first book-form fiction story. You can now enjoy one from the millions available while waiting for the rain to clear during any of the Tests.
10. English sport, including cricket
As a final reason to love the English, have a think back over some of their sporting achievements in recent years after more than 30 years of admirably consistent failure in major sporting events. England beat Australia in Sydney to win the Rugby World Cup in 2003 in one of the great championship performances. Then the cricketers took The Ashes back in England in 2005. And last year, at the Olympics, the British took home one more medal than the Australians - including 19 golds to Australia’s 14 - earning massive bragging rights for four years.
For their occasional tears and complaining about games not going their way, I’ve come to think England have learned to take strength from being treated like underdogs. Perhaps they had to go through years of humiliation to discover it. But I’d be counting they won’t mind Australia being the favourites as this series gets underway.
Plus, they did invent the sport for which The Ashes are played.
I’ll be cheering them on.
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