Just how good are we?

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The Independent Online
Things ain't what they used to be. As far as British sport is concerned, that has long been the cri de coeur from diehards regretting the loss of technique and the lowering of standards. But are Britain's sportsmen and women of today really a pale shadow of their illustrious predecessors?

When Stanley Matthews hung up his boots in 1965, aged 51, English football went into mourning. We'll never see his like again, was the general lament. Yet a year later England had won the World Cup for the first and only time.

That 1966 triumph apart, England's two greatest international showings have come this decade: semi-finalists in Italia '90 and again at Euro '96.

Hobbs, Hutton and Boycott are justly revered in cricketing circles, but Gooch has outscored them all at Test level and Atherton is well on the way to overhauling him.

No British man has reached a Wimbledon singles semi-final since Roger Taylor in 1973 when many top players boycotted the event. Tim Henman's quarter-final appearance last month was arguably as creditable given the greater strength of the field.

With Nick Faldo winning his sixth major title at the Masters in April, our golf is stronger than at any time since the golden age of Vardon, Braid and Taylor who between them won 16 Opens between 1894 and 1914.

Our motor racing drivers are as competitive as they were in the Fifties: Stephen Hendry, at 27, world snooker champion six times, is on the way to eclipsing the great Joe Davis; we've had two world heavyweight boxing champions in the last three years after a century of having none at all; English rugby has never been more successful than in the last six years; and our Olympic gold medal record is, if anything, better at recent Games than at any time since the Second World War.