It could be worse, sports fans - you could be English

By Paul Smith

Nought out of four isn't a great score. But it could actually be worse. You could be English.

While admitting failure in the Cricket World Cup, the America's Cup, the Rugby World Cup and the Netball World Champs isn't brilliant, console yourself with a few facts:

- The population of New Zealand is just over 4 million.

- The population of England is more than 12 times as much at about 50 million.

- The Black Caps reached the semis of the world cup, England didn't make it out of the Super 8s.

- Team NZ came close, Britain didn't have a boat.

- The All Blacks had an absolute shocker (and blaming the ref is tedious), but they're still the best team in the world.

- England aren't. And how they reached the Rugby World Cup final cannot be explained by science.

- The Silver Ferns are good, the Australians right now are slightly better. It will turn round again, so don't worry too much.

This is all very well, but misses the key point. And that point is called football, of the soccer-variety.

There is only one game in England, the rest are all afterthoughts. Football is worth millions, if not billions, and individual players are paid sums matched only by Doug Howlett's bar tabs.

But until Israel (population 6 million) scored an unlikely win over Russia (population 140 million) yesterday, England were heading out of next year's Euro football championship. And they still need a draw against the useful Croatians on Thursday to qualify for the finals.

In summary: England are not very good at the game they really care about, and not much good at any others either.

Despite having a relatively large population to choose from, it's an island nation that can't sail, the country that invented cricket but is perennially embarrassing at it, that invented rugby but doesn't realise you're allowed to give the backs the ball, that invented football but has only won one major trophy ever - way back in 1966.

The reasons behind this miserable sporting record are discussed continually after each and every English sporting debacle, but no one has quite worked out why they continue to happen. Though they're pretty sure it must be the Germans' fault.

So, suddenly, New Zealand's top 4 in cricket, second in netball and yachting, and the best-rugby-side-on-the-planet-between-world-cups, doesn't seem so bad, does it?

(If you're starting to feel a little better, just keep the following word out of your mind: Australia (population 20 million).)

* Paul Smith is English, deputy editor of and a long-suffering football fan.

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