Simon Kelner: This unhealthy and overwrought patriotic passion

Kelner's view
  • @Simon_Kelner

I can't recall ever sharing the same stage as the pop legend Morrissey, but the Mancunian Miserablist (that's him, not me, by the way) made a typically colourful contribution to the debate about the excesses of national pride and the Olympic Games, and for a while on Twitter – the 21st Century equivalent of the town square – he and I were yoked together in disgrace.

On Monday, in this space, I suggested that reactions to Britain's athletics triumphs on Saturday night may have been a little over the top, and that the BBC commentary team seemed to have left their sense of detachment and balance behind.

Morrissey, as is his wont, was a little less nuanced. He said that he was "unable to watch the Olympics due to the blistering jingoism that drenches the event". "Has England ever been quite so foul with patriotism?" he asked, before warming to his theme and comparing the atmosphere here with that of 1939 Germany. Both of us attracted the opprobrium of the Olympic-loving classes: I was branded a killjoy and a moron, and was ganged up on by Gary Lineker, Piers Morgan and Gabby Logan, while Mozza was dismissed as an attention-seeking has-been.

All these things may be true, but in an spirit of independent enquiry, I made my first visit to the Olympic Park in an effort to discover whether we had indeed turned into a nation of hyperpatriotic hysterics. I had a ticket high in the gods for the three-metre springboard semi-final in the Aquatic Centre – not quite the event that I would have chosen, but you had to make do with what you got in the lottery a year ago.

There was one British competitor among the 18 semi-finalists, a teenager from Reading called Chris Mears, ranked 48th in the world and not expected to be among the 12 qualifiers for the final. To the untutored eye, diving is pretty baffling: every single dive looks to me as if it defies physics, if not belief. The crowd, however, knew a Brit when they saw one, and raised the roof when Mears, pictured, did in fact qualify for last night's final.

Did they know he had achieved way beyond expectations? Did they know that, three years ago, he'd had his spleen removed and was given only a 5 per cent chance of survival? Either way, they'd wrapped themselves in the Union Jack and were going to give it their best.

I have to admit there was something impressive about the level of support for one of our own. But I couldn't help feeling that there's something unhealthy about it, too. Not everyone can succeed, so doesn't it make the pain of failure more intense?

Overwrought patriotic passion is what leads athletes to make those heart-rending apologies for letting the nation down.

Not all have the ballsy attitude of Becky Adlington: I don't care what you think, I've won bronze, I'm bloody well proud of it, and now I'm off to Chinawhite for a few cocktails. It would be wonderful if the legacy of these Games were to put sport into some sort of perspective. Somehow, I doubt that will happen.