The Last Word: Sir Geoff Hurst hawks himself for £20 in age of embroidered boots
Ghosts of '66 highlight the twisted values of modern game on a night of joyless English football
Sunday 17 November 2013
Somewhere in the corporate catacombs of Wembley, Sir Geoff Hurst maintained a stoic smile. Defeat and disappointment is not necessarily a bad thing for the History Boy business.
Hurst had bolstered the brand in the solitary feelgood moment of a chastening occasion, when his role in the award of a golden England cap to Frank Lampard invoked the legends of 1966.
That small, strangely understated ceremony was the last flash of warmth and optimism before reality set in, and the Friday Night Lights went out. The only surprise, at the perceived embarrassment of a loss to Chile was that anyone was surprised.
Four more years of milking the mythology of Sir Alf and his World Cup winners is guaranteed. Anyone who expects Roy Hodgson and his flawed squad to secure such immortality in Brazil next summer really hasn't been paying attention.
Watching England these days can be a joyless experience which sustains the nostalgia industry. The night before the latest failure, Hurst, Gordon Banks and Martin Peters went through their routine at the Springfields Events Centre in Spalding.
An evening entitled "They think it's all over" in homage to the late Kenneth Wolstenholme's brain burp followed a familiar script. Hurst spoke about his hat-trick and Banks explained the fusion of instinct and geometry involved in his save from Pele. They, like Peters, scorer of the final's forgotten goal, are word perfect. Signed posters of the trio are available for £44.99.
Tuesday's visit of Germany promises more rubber chicken and reminiscence. Banks and Roger Hunt will be wheeled out on behalf of the Football Pools, another institution stuck in a time warp. They will be promoting a record jackpot of £275,000, a sum for which any self-respecting England international would not get out of bed.
The yearning for old-fashioned values is not altogether surprising in an age where boots worn by England debutants are embroidered and designed for "high visibility". Dreams have been diluted, but a new generation of players, emerging at Under-21 level, are too self-regarding to care.
They refer to themselves as "ballers", a cultural reference coined for basketball players who made it big out of North American ghettoes. The team ethic is sacrificed to a narrow-minded theatricality, embodied by the unproductive tricks of Wilfried Zaha and the self-absorbed slaloming of Ravel Morrison.
No wonder interest in international football is decreasing. The artful camera angles, minimising the impact of swathes of empty seats, and standard "personality" shots of an obese oaf minus his shirt behind one of the goals, fool no one.
The need to fill Wembley, to pay the mortgage, is compromising preparations for what will be the hottest and most humid World Cup since Mexico in 1986. Ten of England's last 15 friendlies have been at home. Only two have been outside Northern Europe. The colonial mentality – let the world come to us – is spectacularly counter-productive.
Lampard did his duty as captain in attempting to finesse the non-performance against Chile. Not even he, one suspects, was listening when he spoke robotically of "a game we need to take the positives out of going forward".
Lampard is a multi-millionaire who will never have to undergo Hurst's indignities. The hero who received £250 for being England's top scorer in 1966 is also marketing himself with reality show refugees on a "Dial a Celebrity" website.
For £20 a minute, fans can speak directly to him. It is demeaning, even if it partially benefits his chosen charity, Steven Gerrard's Foundation. Romance, if not dead, is on a life-support machine.
Sachin always kept his dignity
The world stopped at 6.20am yesterday, when a deity bowed his head and paused to dry his eyes before waving a stump that should have been made of burnished gold.Sachin Tendulkar, suddenly an ex-international cricketer, re-emerged 20 minutes later to reflect on "my life between 22 yards for 24 years".
He eulogised his late father, who "gave me freedom from the age of 11. He told me: chase your dreams but make sure you don't take shortcuts." He hailed his mother, brother, coach, wife and children. He spoke of serving his nation "in the right spirit, with the right values".
His farewell Test enabled India to replace England in second place in the world rankings. He played 664 matches and scored 34,357 runs, including 164 fifties and 100 hundreds.
But the certainties of the scorebook do scant justice to his sporting, social, political and economic impact. His valedictory speech reminded me of another athlete of the broadest significance, Jackie Robinson.
Baseball's black pioneer once said: "The most luxurious possession, the richest treasure anybody has, is his personal dignity."
Tendulkar retained his dignity until the end. He fulfilled his father's greatest wish, and became "a nice human being".
Mike Tyson will relish the contempt and welcome his regression to a fairground freak show. What else did we expect from a sociopath who is terrifyingly self-aware? We all conspired in the exploitation of a man who admits "my social skills consisted of putting a guy in a coma".
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