Miles Kington: Suffering from post-match angst? Just think of the French

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The Independent Online

"See the match, then?" said the man with the dog, as he settled down with a pint for himself and an affectionate kick for the dog, who promptly flopped under the pub table and went to sleep, though whether out of habit or through boredom at the prospect of a conversation on rugby it would be hard to say.

"Yes," said half a dozen voices, none of them enthusiastically, except perhaps that of the resident Welshman.

"I'm glad you raised the subject," said the Welshman. "As you may have noticed, I have been somewhat subdued since my native country was squashed flat by Fiji or somewhere equally unlikely and painful, and I have been slowly coming to terms with it, so I think I have the experience to help you English achieve closure, or denial, or post-match angst, or whatever today's flavour is."

"I'm not so sure about that," said the Major. "I have a funny feeling you just want to gloat."

"Gloat?" said the Welshman. "God forfend!"

"All right,"said the man with the dog. "Tell us one thing. When you were watching the match between England and South Africa, which side were you supporting? Who did you really want to win?"

"That's a good question," said the Welshman. "But it's a question that we had to keep asking ourselves all through the World Cup. Most of the matches were between countries we had no particular feelings about, so how did you ever decide which one you wanted to win? And it is a peculiar thing, but you can't watch a game for long even between two sets of unknowns without taking sides. Sometimes it was the underdog you found yourself going for, as I did with Samoa. I can imagine non-Welsh people going for Fiji, the exotic little guy against the dour big guy. Sometimes it was for the more attractive team, as you might support Argentina. Sometimes it was because you wanted one team to lose. I was surprised how much anti-French feeling there still is. But how can you imagine a neutral supporter's sympathy ever being caught by England ?"

"Well ..." said the Major.

"You can't," said the Welshman. "There is nothing attractive about any English sporting side. You get the occasional floppy-haired Beckham or Wilkinson and that's it. There is nothing picaresque or unpredictable or wayward or maverick or exotic about any England outfit. They are workmanlike, methodical and boring. No one's heart was ever stirred by a bulldog."

"I think you are gloating," said the Major.

"If you were looking for a stirring game of rugby, you wouldn't have watched the World Cup Final in a million years," said the Welshman remorselessly. "Be honest. It was a dreary game to watch. It was grind, grind, grind. Like every English game. The whole bloody way through the World Cup, with England, it was all about grinding through till the last 10 minutes, then hoping Jonny would kick a drop goal or a penalty."

There was a silence. We all knew he was right.

"Still ..." said the Major.

"Oh, please don't say, 'Still, at least we got to the final'," said the Welshman.

"No," said the Major. "I was going to say that after the pool stage England did at least win every game before the final. We only lost one game."

"My dear friend," said the Welshman, "that was true of every team. After the pool stage, every team won every game till they were knocked out. No team lost more than one game."

"Not true, actually," said the Major.


"France. France lost twice, knocked out by England and then beaten by Argentina in the play-off for third place."

We thought about it.

"He's right, you know," said the man with the dog.

"He is, by Jiminy!" said the Welshman. "I shouldn't be here at all!"

"What do you mean?"

"I should be in some little French bar, helping French drinkers to come to terms with their grief. They've got it worse than you English. We're better off than they are."

"No they're not," said the Major. "We've got the Olympic Games and they haven't."

The thought was so depressing that we gave up sport and started talking about the Lib Dems instead.