Simon Kelner: Trouble finding the net? If only it had been tennis...

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The Independent Online

The front page of yesterday's Sun newspaper was a masterly statement of British stoicism. Superimposed on a picture of distraught English footballers after their exit from the European Championships was a headline that read: "Anyone for tennis?"

It was an attempt to put into context our sporting aspirations as a nation. All right, there was the utter heartbreak of yet another defeat in a penalty shoot-out. Yes, we'd had our growing belief in the national team crushed once again. And, true, many people will have gone to work yesterday feeling a more intense version of the Monday morning blues. But what's that against the fact that we stage an important tennis tournament? Does it matter that no one from these islands ever wins it any more? Of course not. Our source of pride is the manner in which the Wimbledon championships are presented to the world.

Full marks to the Sun for trying to cheer us up, for attempting to turn our attention away from the catastrophic (in sporting terms) events in Kiev, but I'm afraid it just doesn't wash. We just don't care about tennis. For two weeks every year, we engage with it, and affect an interest in the latest eastern European female prodigy, but, as a people, we only truly, madly, deeply care about football. Yes, even in June. The Olympic Games will grab public attention later on in the summer, but it is highly unlikely that a single event will unite the nation like a big football match.

I'm not saying that the hype and collective hysteria that increasingly attends the England football team is a healthy thing, but rarely do we have a communal experience these days.

In the modern home, there's almost always more than one television, together with multifarious media devices, and much of the time everyone is watching something different.

At least on Sunday evening, most people were watching the same thing at the same time, and experiencing the same despondent feeling, albeit to vastly different degrees.

And don't forget this was only a quarter-final. And it was the Euros, not even the World Cup.

But this wasn't just a defeat: it was an examination of our national characteristics. What is it in the British psyche that makes us so rubbish at a penalty shoot-out (this was the sixth time in a major tournament that England had suffered such calamity)? If you're paid £100,000 a week, you should be able to put the ball in the net from 12 yards, even if you're facing Spider-Man in goal.

It is a relatively mechanical act that players practise every day. But it's clearly not as simple as that. Factor in fatigue and pressure and you have a whole different set of problems, and you have to say that experience has shown we are just not mentally equipped for the job.

We are a cold-blooded, rational Northern European people: surely we're going to have more psychological strength than those passionate, instinctive Italians, what with their Latin temperament and all.

But maybe it is just the weight of national expectation that weighs so heavily on English shoulders that renders them paralysed with fear. In which case, two weeks of Wimbledon will indeed be something of a relief.