Charles Nevin: We few, we happy few, we band of losers


Hard though it is to believe, summer will soon be upon us. Spring is already around somewhere, if evidenced only by the passing of St George's Day; which also reminds us, as the distant rumble turns into that often literally intoxicating mix of roaring hype and raw hope: the World Cup is coming.

Indeed: the England song has been released, and has received the traditional kicking. We're offering you the chance to win tickets. The Sun's reporter has already left; he's going to walk there in 66 days, and had a last farewell curry at Dover. The spectre of a certain Torquay hotelier nods, balefully. Sven has put his house in Regent's Park on the market. And air fresheners in the shapes of England players have been licensed for sale by the FA.

It is at such times that the independent, clear-headed commentator is most valuable. Until now, though, I feel, our contribution has been marred by too many stern appeals to proportion, with copious references to "the bigger picture" and "only a game".

Only a game! Is there a more useless, more infuriating sentiment? As well say, "it's only life". Explain to me, please, the significant difference between sport and life in entrusting your happiness to complete strangers over whom you have no control. And at least with one, it's only for 90 minutes or a few games, rather than five years. And you do get to see what's going on.

No, I know how important this is. Apart from anything else, it's the last World Cup before the next election, just; so the Eng-land players must be aware that they could be responsible for a sustained feel-good factor that might keep this Government in power until at least 2014. But I don't want to add to the pressure.

Besides, come on, we all concede, secretly, during those quiet, contemplative moments which might be described as the half-time of the soul, that England are not going to win. There: it's said. Nothing disloyal; just a measured appraisal, based not so much on form, group, or an understanding of Swedish thought processes, as on history, tradition and our island narrative.

Losing suits us. We're uncomfortable with strident triumph. It's why our sympathies and interest lie not with efficient winners like William the Conqueror, Henry V, Cromwell, or Wellington, but with the inefficient ones like Nelson, who died doing it, or Richard I, begetter of the three lions, who died because he stopped to applaud the shot that killed him at Chalus.

It's why our imperial history is studded with famous defeats snatched against the odds, why we bungled Versailles in 1919, and voted Churchill out in 1945.

Splendid: nothing like getting your mitigation in early. But I can't be the only supporter who enjoys a good defeat. There's none of that nervousness about what's coming next, just a grimly satisfying confirmation of the implacable unfairness of life. I still remember the relish with which a Manchester City supporter started selling copies of the fanzine straight after a bad result: "Blue Moon! Another Disaster Special!".

And just think of the fun if Mr Tofik Bakhramov had disallowed Geoff Hurst's goal in 66.

Loss, I tell you, is the thing. Far more depth, far more classy than flashy success. Coming to terms with it, using it positively, and even laughing at it are among the prime distinguishing marks of a civilised society. Now, who's for a penalty shoot-out?

You hum it, I'll sing it, We'll clap it

Congratulations and jubilations to Bono, right, named the nation's favourite lyricist for One life, with each other, sisters, brothers, from U2's "One". Inspired, I have conducted my own exclusive poll of top lines:

At 10, Cole Porter: You're an O'Neill drama, You're Whistler's mama! You're Camembert.

9. Max Bygraves: Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellenbogen By The Sea.

8. Leonard Cohen: I was born with the gift of a golden voice.

7. Johnny Orton: When It's Springtime In Alaska, I'll be six feet below.

6. Noel Coward, "Mad Dogs and Englishmen": Bolyboly bolyboly bolyboly baa. (Repeat)

5. Oscar Hammerstein: I'm stuck like a dope with this thing called hope.

4. Rolf Harris: Tan my hide when I'm dead, Fred.

3. T Texas Tyler, "The Deck of Cards": I was that soldier.

2. For Bono, Shel Silverstein's great beatnik lament: Bury me in my shades, boys.

1. Sammy Kahn, "Come Fly With Me": You may hear angels cheer, 'cos we're together.

I met Kahn, who told me, among much else, that Shakespeare had his limitations.

And now the bard's Elizabeth I's love child, too. Happy Anniversary, Bill.

* Life, I find, is not without its social pitfalls. My father, who rose from private to major (acting) in the 1939-45 war, was offered violence in the officer's mess at Colchester because of the, admittedly rather louche, shade of his brown shoes.

And were you aware that you should not wear a Panama until the Goodwood meeting in August? Last week, too, the Italian husband of Oona King, the former Labour MP for Bethnal Green, confided on television that a cappuccino should never be taken after 10am, which I have now filed alongside my old English teacher's injunction that one should, if at all possible, avoid talking before that time.

My most prized memory, though, is of the titled figure encountered in heavy rain and sodden tweeds upon his return to London after a weekend away. Why no umbrella? The aghast reply: "What, with country clothes?!" Verb sap.

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