One of the few compensations of growing old is that you are less likely to be disappointed by Britain's sporting defeats. Indeed, it is possible to come up with a new version of Shakespeare's seven ages of man to reflect this fact.
At first the infant, cheering along without a clue; then the schoolboy, experiencing the first stirrings of nationalist fervour when the England football squad qualifies for an international tournament; then the lover, completely besotted with the latest British hopeful at Wimbledon; then the soldier, doggedly standing by the England rugby players even though their chances of winning anything are slim; then the sceptic, telling yourself not to get too excited when the England cricket team mounts a campaign to reclaim the Ashes; then the cynic, betting against the British contender in the Welterweight Championship; and, eventually, the soothsayer, predicting an endless series of defeats long into the future.
I am now at the stage where scepticism is hardening into cynicism. When I tuned in to watch England in the European Under-21 Championship final last Monday, I wasn't exactly hopeful – we were playing Germany, after all – but it was still a shock when we lost 4-0.
At the time of writing, Andy Murray has yet to be knocked out of Wimbledon but his five-set thriller against Stanislas Wawrinka looked suspiciously like one of Henman's battles to make it into the last eight. It is almost as if he has been sent by the Gods of false hope to torture us. When apologists claim he is "improving", I can't help reminding them that Boris Becker won Wimbledon at the age of 17. If he becomes the first British men's singles champion since 1936, I'll eat this newspaper.
As for the Ashes, the 2005 result is looking increasingly like an aberration. Sometimes, I feel obliged to mount a defence of British sport, claiming that our chronic inability to win anything is due to our natural sympathy for the underdog. At the crucial moment, when we have our opponents in our sites, we lack the killer instinct. Better they should win than us – it will mean so much more to them.
But in truth, it is a cause of unremitting shame and embarrassment. Will the summer kindly come to an end? I don't think I can take any more.Reuse content