The winter darkness seemed all the more impenetrable across England yesterday as a nation woke to the prospect of a 2008 summer without the emotional rollercoaster of a major football tournament.
As Steve McClaren was duly sacked for his side's failure in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, with a scatty 3-2 defeat to Croatia, England was hit by the hungover realisation that its national team – for years followed with disproportionate expectation by its fiercely loyal fans – needed a wholesale review.
"I have huge disappointment for the nation and fans," admitted McClaren, as his 18-month tenure – the shortest ever for an England manager – came to an end. Compensated for the premature termination of his contract by a £2.5m payoff, he finally took the blame for a series of gambles that left millions of supporters bitterly disappointed.
Mark Perryman of the England Supporters Club, said: "It's a huge blow. For 10 years we have qualified for every tournament and now we are in danger of a spiral of decline."
But it wasn't just fans' famously high hopes that have been short-changed by England's first non-appearance in the finals of a European Championship or World Cup since 1994. The economy will be hit too, as traders in shirts, flags, food and drink count the cost.
Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry Business School, has estimated price for business at £2bn.
"Evidence from previous tournaments also shows that, at another level, worker productivity normally increases as the England national team progresses through major tournaments and the 'feel-good factor' takes hold," said Mr Chadwick.
Shares in Sports Direct have already dipped by 17 per cent following a "profit warning" and JJB Sports suffered a fall in its share price of 8.2 per cent. Meanwhile Umbro, makers of the England kit, also took a knock, losing 3.7 per cent on the Stock Exchange.
Supermarket sales will lose out on a huge boost. During last summer's World Cup, £100m was spent every week on food and drink, including an unusual amount of pies, pizzas and cans of Stella Artois. Landlords will lament the lack of thirsty punters packing the pubs for the big games. Bookmakers are also unually on the losing side, missing out on millions of overly-optimistic bets.
And even BBC bosses were left scratching their heads after stretching their heavily constrained budget to join ITV in outbidding Sky for coverage of the tournament's 32 matches.
After 11 million tuned into last night's match, it was predicted that advertising revenues for the commercial network could fall by as much as £10m next summer.
There was however a little sunshine yesterday when David Beckham – whose inch-perfect cross for Peter Crouch to score almost saved England's hopes at Wembley – smiled for the cameras at the launch of his youth academy at Greenwich. Beckham could be forgiven for thinking that the only advantage of England's dire result was that McClaren's unhappy tenure – which began with the midfielder being dropped from the squad – had finally come to an end.
... but at least Britain claims a gold medal in cabinet making
By Richard Garner, Education Editor
The UK does have something to shout about in the world of international competition and sporting prowess.
England may have failed to qualify for Euro 2008 and the rugby team lost in the World Cup final, but at least Britain has won medals in the World Skills Competition in Shizuoka, Japan. The disciplines in which Britain excels? Cabinet making, graphic design, autobody repairs and car painting.
Britain won a gold, a silver and two bronze medals – placing it 11th out of the 49 nations competing and fourth in Europea. It was a one-place improvement on the effort in the previous World Skills event in 2005.
Contestants compete in a range of skills such as engineering, landscape gardening, graphic design, hairdressing and beauty therapy against international competition. Each of the 22 competitors from the UK had a personal trainer for the four-day event.
The gold award winner was Gary Tuddenham, 22, in cabinet-making. Sources close to the team were joking last night that his skills could come in handy for the Government in view of the disasters it has faced over the past few days.
Gary, from Longtown in Hampshire, said he was "absolutely over the moon"' about his gold. "It was a great honour to have been chosen to represent the UK and it has been an incredible experience meeting like-minded people from around the world who all love cabinet-making,'" he said.
The other medal winners were Harry Smith, 22, silver in graphic design; Simon Noble, 21, bronze in autobody repair, and Jonathan Lloyd, also 21, bronze in car painting. In addition, the team won nine medallions of excellence. The event was watched by more than 200,000 spectators over four days of competition.
The World Skills team members will not be parading their medals around Trafalgar Square on their return to London but they did receive immediate praise from the Universities and Skills Secretary, John Denham, who said: "World Skills is about raising the status and the standards of vocational education. What this year's team has done epitomises that. This team is helping to break down the snobbery around skills training – there is nothing second best about good skills-based careers."Reuse content