The round-robin e-mails have been arriving steadily all week, most of them doubtless originating on the computer of some futures trader in the City of London, waiting for the Tokyo Stock Exchange to open or the Dow Jones to close or whatever those guys do. Whatever, they were hatched less in joyous celebration of England's famous victory in last Saturday's World Cup quarter-final (I think we can now dispense with the prefix "rugby union") than in joyous celebration of Australia's defeat.
Most of them, I confess, brought a smile to my face. Some even forced a titter. New Antipodean retail opportunities, declared one e-mail: "IKEA's new Wallaby furniture range, delivered as a flattened pack". And, lest anyone forget that it was a terrible weekend for New Zealand, too: "new M&S All-Black bra, comes with plenty of support, but no cup".
Then there was the tricked-up picture of the Sydney Opera House, repainted in the colours of the St George's flag, with a nice red rose on one of the fins. And the bottle of Pom Victoire, "Australian Whine made from pure sour grapes". Further fun was had with the write-up for Pom Victoire: "Matured over several years, this robust performer has been enjoyed by the English for some time. Australians may find it hard to swallow due to its bitter aftertaste, which can last four years or more. Best served cold with humble pie or barbecued wings."
Cute, very cute. Even travel companies have got in on the act. "Hi Brian," said another e-mail, yesterday. "'What happened to the sunshine?' That's what we've all been asking ourselves this year. Well, we'll tell you – it's gone back over to Australia and New Zealand (just like their rugby teams). But don't worry, because even though the sun's on the other side of the world, with our latest offers to Australasia and South East Asia, it's well within reach."
Even if it all goes poire-shaped in the Stade de France this evening, and England are dumped out of the World Cup by les coqs, English crowing at the expense of the Aussies will continue. It has been intensified, of course, as sporting triumphalism always is, by the cocksureness of the opponent prior to battle. Pride, in the case of the Australian media and several in the team and its entourage, notably the skills coach Alec Evans, who swaggeringly predicted a 30-point smashing, came before a very nasty fall indeed.
How many times has that happened in sport through the decades? In boxing it is part and parcel of the game, but that makes it no less satisfying when the man lying flat on the canvas is the man who promised a second-round knockout. I remember being at the press conference last year when Frank Warren announced the super-middleweight unification bout between Joe Calzaghe and Jeff Lacy. Lacy's promoter Gary Shaw, and Lacy himself, were full of bombast. Calzaghe, meanwhile, sat quietly, with a faint smile that might almost have been interpreted as apprehension. He made no promises, did not proclaim himself the greatest fighter alive, and in due course wiped the floor with the American.
Other sports, too, offer plenty of examples of people making themselves hostages to fortune. I sit here tapping my keyboard not 15 miles from ramshackle Edgar Street, the stadium in which non-league Hereford United humbled mighty Newcastle United in the third round of the FA Cup one unforgettable Saturday afternoon in February 1972. It was reported before the game that Newcastle's centre-forward Malcolm MacDonald had predicted that he alone would score 10 goals. In the event he scored only one, eight minutes from the end, which seemed enough until Ricky George and Ronnie Radford wrote their names into the history books. A couple of years later, with their team 3-0 up against Newcastle in the FA Cup final, Liverpool fans seized on MacDonald's propensity for making bold statements of intent, rocking Wembley with the taunt: "Super Mac, super star, how many goals have you scored so far?"
A couple of years after that, the England cricket captain Tony Greig booked himself a place, possibly the supreme place, in the annals of misplaced predictions. "The West Indians, these guys, if they get on top they're magnificent cricketers. If they're down, they grovel. And I intend ... to make them grovel." England, as we all know, were battered. And Viv Richards, for one, could not resist one final thump, later explaining that he had truly been grovelling when Greig got him out on 291 in the first innings of the fifth Test.
Richards was entitled to rub Greig's nose in the dirt, just as this week's mischievous e-mails at the expense of the Australian sporting nation have been entirely justified. I've thoroughly enjoyed listening to David Campese, for so long England's baiter-in-chief, glumly having to preview the France v England semi-final on TalkSport. But there is a point at which triumphalism turns into hubris. You said you were the greatest, but we beat you, so now we're the greatest. Of that, starting in Paris this evening, the English must beware.
Who I like this week...
It was going to be Michael Forbes, the humble Aberdeenshire farmer who has bested the billionaire Donald Trump, refusing to sell his ramshackle old farm at any price and thus stymieing Trump's plans to build "the world's greatest golf course" and hotel complex. But then I read some contributions to The Scotsman's website, and suddenly I wasn't sure. "Do we want to be bitter and unspoiled or do we want to join the market place," said one correspondent, arguing that, but for one man's intransigence, Trump would be pumping squillions into the Scottish economy. On balance, though, I'm sticking with Forbes – David in a kilt v Goliath with woven hair – as the object of this week's approval.
And who I don't
Frank Lampard, reportedly in an almighty sulk at the prospect of being dropped to the bench against Estonia. Nobody embodies the pampered footballer more than Lampard, and it's worth revealing yet again that I was recently offered an interview with him on condition that: a) his "people" got to approve every word; and b) the piece didn't appear in the sports pages, because his "people" want to "reposition" him.Reuse content