Today England's brave footballers remain untouchable heroes - not a single match lost and now through to the World Cup quarter finals. Thirty million of us watched our national team win on Sunday night. Thirty million sympathetically heaved in spirit when courageous captain David Beckham vomited on the pitch after the tension of scoring a crucial goal. And thirty million will be glued to their televisions this coming Saturday when we face Portugal in the next nail-biting game.
It is tantamount to a criminal offence NOT to display the emblem of England, the cross of St George. Red and white seems to fly from every flagpole and adorn every humble home. Even Government Ministers who wouldn't normally be seen dead taking an interest in football have them fluttering from official cars. Patriotism, in a country so used to running itself down, has become respectable again.
This is a curious and uncomfortable phenomenon. We are, unlike you, instinctively a reserved nation which prefers to avoid conspicuous displays of raw emotion. Given that our sportsmen have a long tradition of losing everything from tiddlywinks to beach volley ball this is probably a sensible precaution.
For example we are now hosting the world's most famous lawn tennis championships at Wimbledon a few miles south of here. And as former Wimbledon champions like your Jimmy Connors never tire of telling us, England is about as proficient at lawn tennis as Donald Rumsfeld is at constructing coherent sentences. We don't stand a snowball's chance in hell of winning a single prize. So, after decades of disappointment, we developed the national habit of polite applause for every sport in which our home-grown players miserably failed. We tried to convince ourselves that victory didn't matter, and simply playing the game was the real reward.
This of course was self-deluding eyewash. Actually we love winning every bit as much as anyone else. We are just slightly out of practice. But this time it will be different. This time the world is within our grasp. This time we're proud enough to show our colors, which is why we'll all be a whole lot sicker than David Beckham if we finally fail.
by Ed Boyle