Miles Kington: The English just don't do individual moments of brilliance

To be good at penalties you have to be good at showing off. The British don't like show-offs
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The Independent Online

"I can't believe it," said the man with the dog, easing himself behind the pub table with his first pint of the evening. "I can't believe we were bundled out of the World Cup so easily."

"Don't fool yourself," said the resident Welshman. "You weren't bundled out of the World Cup. You fell overboard without a life belt. The English team had been tottering round helplessly, nearer and nearer the edge, and when you finally fell into the water, the English seemed shocked and surprised. But not those of us who had been watching their games through neutral eyes. We weren't surprised. The World Cup is well shot of the English. They played like clowns. They were a disgrace."

He was right, of course, but nobody liked to say so, not if it meant agreeing with a Welshman. The resident Welshman becomes very Welsh at times like this, even more so now that the embargo against discussing the World Cup in the pub had been lifted.

"Never mind," he added kindly. "You did very well against Trinidad and Tobago. No one can take that away from you."

"I sometimes feel that the whole world is against us," said the Major gloomily.

"Including Sven Goran Eriksson," said the Welshman with relish. "Old Sven has schemed his way to mediocrity with unerring consistency and at vast expense. Still, at least Theo Walcott has come back with his reputation unblemished."

"Penalty kicks," said the man with the dog. "Why do we always lose at penalty kicks? If someone can explain that to me, I'll buy him a drink."

"The worst of it is that even if Sven is going, he's being replaced by this man McLaren, and McLaren's only noticeable talent seems to be for drawing diagrams," said the Major. "Did you notice that whenever the camera cut to Eriksson on the bench, McLaren was drawing things on bits of paper? Even at the start of the game?"

"Perhaps he was passing him a note saying, 'Let's pull Wayne Rooney back into defence NOW and play for a draw and penalties',"said the Welshman.

"Penalties," said the man with the dog bitterly. "If anyone can explain to me why the English ..."

"I can explain," said the Welshman. "I can certainly explain. Having lived among you for a number of years, I have realised that the English are crap at penalties because it goes counter to all their instincts. What the English are good at is the long haul. The slog. The siege. The long-drawn out campaign. Churchill and the bulldog breed. We shall never surrender. We shall fight them ..."

"What the Welsh are good at is being long-winded," said the Major.

"Ah, but it's true what I say," said the Welshman.

"Give the English a long slog and they are unbeatable. And that's what they did doggedly and implacably against the Portuguese for 90 minutes, even down to 10 men. But then came the penalties. Now, penalties call for the opposite talent, which is for one moment of individual brilliance. To be good at penalties you have to be good at showing off. The British don't like show-offs. That's why the English are good at humour, which needs a bit of a build-up, and no good at wit, which is a moment of individual brilliance. Anyone who has ever been a bit of a wit in England had to be imported, usually from Ireland, like Wilde and Shaw."

"What about Noel Coward?" said the lady with red hair.

"Coward was gay, which is sort of foreign," said the Welshman.

"Don't think I'd let Noel Coward take penalties for England," said the Major.

"No, I think our Welsh friend is right," said the man with the dog. "Penalties require flair, which the English lack."

"Then why are the Germans so good at them?"

"I can't stand this," said the lady with red hair. "I came here to get away from the World Cup. I propose an extension of the embargo on the World Cup for another week."

The motion was passed and so we all talked about the cricket instead, and why the English were so crap at one day cricket against Sri Lanka, which calls for instant brilliance, and so much better at Test matches, which call for the dogged long haul, and then there was an embargo on talking about cricket as well, and so we all talked about our holidays.