Now we know where our doughty inventive spirit came from

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The Independent Online

Britain has invented the best sports in the world. And now we know why. We have to keep coming up with new games because once foreigners start playing them, they do it so much better than we do. Golf, football, rugby, tennis, cricket - all great British inventions. And now all played much better overseas.

Britain has invented the best sports in the world. And now we know why. We have to keep coming up with new games because once foreigners start playing them, they do it so much better than we do. Golf, football, rugby, tennis, cricket - all great British inventions. And now all played much better overseas.

Cricket was only exported to bits of the British Empire, but England still manages to be at the bottom of the world rankings, way behind Australia, the West Indies, and probably South Africa. Though it is difficult to tell how good the South Africans really are, now we have discovered their captain has been in cahoots with dodgy bookmakers for years. But we can be reasonably confident no one would bribe the England team to play badly to fix a match, seeing how badly they play when they are trying their best.

We can expect no better at Wimbledon. The inventor of lawn tennis, Major Wingfield, gave his new pastime the unpronounceable name "Sphairistike" presumably to put foreigners off, but his tactic did not work. The name did not catch on, the game did; but, very quickly, so did foreign players. As a result, the last British man to win a singles title at Wimbledon was Fred Perry in 1936. I think that leaves us with snooker, darts and shinty to boast about.

The Americans do these things much better. The games they have invented are good enough to provide excitement within the United States but nothing like good enough to really interest people elsewhere. The puffed-up pageant of American football is only good for puffed-up Americans. And baseball contrives to be even less alluring to the outsider than cricket, which is quite an achievement. And so, year in year out, only American sides contest the baseball "World Series".

It is understandable, then, that the wise men in charge of football within the British Isles resisted the notion of participating in the World Cup when it was proposed in the early years of the 20th century. For not only had we invented football, we had invented international football as well - regular games between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom. With an annual fixture of England v Wales on offer, what need could there be of a cup that might pitch Brazil against Germany, or the Netherlands against Argentina?

The first World Cup took place in 1930 but none of the British national teams took part. It was another 20 years before we joined in. Even then Fifa had to allow the Home International Championship to be a qualifying group for the 1950 finals in Brazil, the first two teams to qualify. The Scottish Football Association said they would go to Brazil only if they emerged as British champions. They were narrowly beaten into second place by England and stubbornly stayed at home. England probably wished they had too, since they were famously beaten by a scratch team representing the USA.

With the golden exception of 1966, British involvement in international football competitions has been one humiliation after another. Scotland set off for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina convinced they were going to win it, on the tenuous grounds that they had qualified and England had not. They were eliminated in the first round, as they always are.

On the other hand, England always expect to win. There were even high hopes for Euro 2000, despite the fact that the team had been comprehensively beaten by Sweden in the qualifying stages and only just overcame Scotland in a desperate "best of losers" play-off.

English football clubs have long since given up trying to find enough English players capable of passing the ball intelligently. Instead they employ every other nationality to do basic things like keeping possession long enough to dominate the game.

So it is hardly surprising that the national team struggles when forced to rely on home-grown resources. If you were putting a pan-European side together at the moment would you select any English player, with the possible exception of David Beckham?

As far as managers are concerned, England's position is even worse. After England's elimination this week from Euro 2000 there have been few calls to replace Kevin Keegan because there is scarcely a suitable English coach to replace him. Since its inception in 1992, the FA Premiership has only once been won by a team managed by an Englishman. Indeed, since the war all but a handful of great managers of English clubs have been Scots.

Next season the Premiership is almost certainly going to be won by Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Leeds or Chelsea. And their managers? A Scotsman, an Italian, a couple of Frenchmen and an Irishman. It may sound like the beginning of an old joke, but there is not an Englishman in sight. For that you would have to pin your hopes on two former England managers (retired) at Newcastle and Southampton or the next England manager (probably) at Aston Villa.

One obvious solution would be to rectify the anomaly that allows the UK four separate entries into international competitions. In theory it gives us four chances of winning, although in practice we get four separate ways of losing. As things stand, the three smaller countries stand next to no chance of success - Wales and Northern Ireland usually fail even to qualify - and England is always going to be weaker than a United Kingdom team would be.

While there are not many non-English star players around at the moment, I bet Keegan would be happy to make use of (Welshman) Ryan Giggs; and previous managers might just have found a place for George Best, Denis Law, Ian Rush or Kenny Dalglish in their team.

But if it took 20 years to join in the World Cup it will take 120 to do anything as obvious as fielding a United Kingdom team. But if we cannot go forward, let us go back. Let us withdraw from Fifa and Uefa and all other organisations alien to our native footballing ways, and go back to playing the Home Internationals among ourselves. This would allow England and Scotland once again to enjoy international success.

There would also be the advantage that no longer would England fans travel to cause havoc abroad and embarrassment back home. If they wanted a fight they would have to try their luck in Glasgow.

And speaking of embarrassment, we would also be spared the sort of thing we saw last Tuesday night: the sight of Romania, one of the poorest countries in Europe, making England look like one of the poorest teams in Euro 2000.