Little-known fact: I’m going to England for 10 days, starting Sunday. I will be researching in-depth features on Menelik Watson, Jack Crawford and Lawrence Okoye. Or maybe I will just be attending my cousin’s wedding.
I had been looking forward to this trip for many reasons, not least the ability to talk World Cup with my British relatives. With the Americans exceeding expectations by advancing to the knockout round, while England completely met its loyalists’ expectations by going down in flames, the visit was shaping up to be a lot of fun. If there’s one thing the Brits love to celebrate, it’s the superiority of football (theirs) over football (ours), and here was my chance to shame them.
Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so enjoyable. No one, not even I, likes to kick a nation when it’s down.
Eight days after the English soccer team was eliminated in group play, Andy Murray was shot down in three sets by Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov at Wimbledon. Murray, born in Scotland, was the defending tournament champion and the beacon of hope in UK tennis; Dimitrov was the 11th seed. This was not good for the strawberries-and-cream set.
Then things got worse. If there’s a sport in which the Brits are the up-and-comers, it’s cycling. They have an especially strong track cycling program (perhaps because there are no actual hills in England), and that has produced a number of strong time trialists and sprinters.
But almost as soon as the Tour de France began – in England, no less, with a royal sendoff from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – one of Britain’s favorite sons had crashed out. Mark Cavendish, a world road race champion from the Isle of Man (that’s a real place), separated his shoulder when he tumbled on a sprint to the finish in Stage 1.
Then Chris Froome, the defending Tour de France champion and a British citizen (though he grew up in Kenya and South Africa), broke his left wrist and right hand in a crash during Stage 4.
Enough is enough. I now feel obligated to avoid the subject of British athletics altogether during my trip, much as I avoid the American War of Independence and the War of 1812. Maybe England will defeat India in the big cricket match currently underway, and pints will be lifted in celebration, and a few rays of sunshine will penetrate the dark clouds hanging over English sport. And then I can remind them about the World Cup.