The armband passes

by Steven Poole on July 2, 2006

So, David Beckham has quit as England captain. The only thing that has made me ashamed to be English during this World Cup has been the astonishing quantity of bile spat out by the professional Beckham-haters of the English press, notwithstanding the plain fact that England wouldn’t even have been playing last night without the goals he made and scored. It is hard to resist a diagnosis of sheer vicious envy, on the part of journalists who never have been, and never will be, a tiny fraction as talented or as good-looking as the erstwhile English captain. Do they really imagine that a certain low cunning with words makes them in any way superior to such a gifted athlete, such a fine anti-macho role model for 21st-century youth? Can it be any coincidence that Beckham shares his initials with another strong candidate for Greatest Living Englishman, David Bowie? I think not. Sincerely, let us salute him.



Walt 07.02.06 at 8:51 am

Attributes that contribute to being Greatest Living Englishman include being good looking and being good at football?


Ron F 07.02.06 at 9:07 am

The only thing that has made me ashamed to be English during this World Cup…

You make it sound as if it was compulsory to be ashamed. Why’s that? Personally, I only do the ashamed thing when Britain bombs other countries with high explosives, not bombs out of football tournaments.

Did anyone else notice that England played better after Beckham was substituted? :)


Steven Poole 07.02.06 at 9:12 am

Well, after Beckham and Rooney went, England had their backs to the wall, which is apparently the motivation they need to play really well… ;-)

I certainly didn’t mean to imply that it was compulsory to be ashamed of something.


Kieran Healy 07.02.06 at 9:38 am

shares his initials

So is David Blunkett in the running for GLE as well?


oyster 07.02.06 at 9:40 am

Alright, crisp salutes to Becks and Bowie.

Though I think the initials they share IS a coincidence.


DC 07.02.06 at 10:02 am

And David Brent.

Beckham is a legend. Oh, a myth, I mean. He has never been a good enough player to justify the “icon” status won by his celebrity status. Engerland would’ve been better off without him overall (even with his free kicks), or perhaps at right back when Neville was out.


dearieme 07.02.06 at 10:20 am

Beckham is a limited footballer, but within those limits he was awfully good when at his peak. I imagine that the manager kept selecting him because so few of the others looked remotely capable of manufacturing a chance to score.


Another Damned Medievalist 07.02.06 at 10:22 am

Beckham has not been the same since Ferguson sent him packing. Or maybe since Scholes retired from international football. And England needed a new captain. But if McClaren keeps that little f#*@ker Rooney in the squad, England deserve to keep losing.


engels 07.02.06 at 10:30 am

Ave Beckham! And I would like to add that Beckham is an honourable man.


Ron F 07.02.06 at 10:58 am

England had their backs to the wall, which is apparently the motivation they need to play really well

There’s your answer to the question of England’s future success –

“You vill score ze goals und win ze game or else you vill be put against ze vall und shot”

All we need is a manager with an appalling German accent.

Harsh? Well, OK, a bit. But probably less so than saying if you don’t win you won’t get paid and can’t advertise sunglasses, razorblades, reconstituted potato snacks, sugar water and men’s hair care products.

Do all that and they’d be begging us to shoot them ;)

BTW – if anybody is looking in on Crooked Timber as part of the $450,000 US Air Force research into blogs, the above comment is a joke.

Except the bit about shooting the England squad.


a 07.02.06 at 11:01 am

England looks to be the equivalent of the pre-2004 Red Sox in American baseball, condemned to lose because of their fans. The Red Sox fans were so quick to attack a struggling Red Sox player that they ended up hurting the team. Case in point: in summer 2003 Pedro Martinez, the Red Sox star pitcher, stopped playing a while because of an injury. From memory it was a back injury; in any case, it was the kind of injury which had a certain subjectiveness to it. The Red Sox fans began to criticize quite vehemently his willingness to play. Pedro didn’t have dedication, they said. It was the lead subject of talk radio for a month. Still, in the fall, the Red Sox made the play-offs and faced their arch-enemy, the Yankees, in the American League Championship Series. Pedro pitches in the deciding game and, with the Red Sox ahead, is evidently tiring in the sixth or seventh inning. The Red Sox manager comes to the mound and asks Pedro how he feels. Pedro says he wants to stay in the game. He does, the Yankees score immediately and win the game and the series. My guess is that all that fan harassment in the summer caused Pedro to want to stay in the game – to prove he was a dedicated player – rather than being sensible and listening to his body.

This isn’t to say that Red Sox fans aren’t great – they care about the team. Rather, in spite of themselves, they ended up doing precisely the opposite of what they wanted – having a winning team.

Anyway, as I said, English football fans strike me like these Red Sox fans. They are their team’s own worst enemy. In penalties the English players are now so scared of all the derision that they will get from the fans and the English press should they miss, that they just can’t put the ball in. The English players all tried to hit the ball safely – too safely – so the Portuguese goalie had no trouble stopping it.

Well, the Red Sox did eventually win. They won in the only way possible: with their backs to the wall, down 3-0 against the same Yankees in the next year’s ALCS, they found themselves in a zone where they had nothing to lose, where what the fans said didn’t matter any more. So they won. (Well, they also had a better team; that helps!)


Ray 07.02.06 at 11:52 am

Beckham was a great player, but not this summer. Lennon created more in his first five minutes on the pitch than Beckham did in all the first half.
Doesn’t make DB evil or stupid, just not the best person to play. And he wasn’t the one who picked the team.


Zaoem 07.02.06 at 12:12 pm

As Nick Hornsby wrote:

“David Beckham, a man who, after all, has been photographed wearing a sarong. But then, that’s England all over at the moment. We’d still prefer to be bombing the Germans; but after sixty years, there’s a slowly dawning suspicion that those days aren’t coming back any time soon, and in the meantime, we must rely on sarong-wearing, multimillionaire pretty boys to kick the Argies for us. We’re not happy about it, but what can we do?”


Zaoem 07.02.06 at 12:14 pm

Btw, also from Hornsby before the WC:

“At least half of this England team is seriously good, so when they are beaten in the quarterfinals, as is their custom, there will be pointless anger rather than weary resignation.”


Dan Kervick 07.02.06 at 1:20 pm

At least half of this England team is seriously good.

The overall quality of the team guaranteed competitive games and promising possessions. But in soc-foot-cer-ball you need to have some players who can put the ball in the net. And in the World Cup you need world class scorers to beat world class defenders.

With no Owen and a hobbled Rooney, England had no world class finishers on its squad: no Klose, no Ronaldo, no Henry, no Ronaldinho, no the other Ronaldo, no Raul, no Shevchenko, no Robben.

Compare France. France played a fine all-around game against Brazil, but in the end it was Zidane to Henry that made the difference.


Thlayli 07.02.06 at 3:36 pm

Beckham shares his initials with another strong candidate for Greatest Living Englishman, David Bowie

“Bowie” is a stage name, which David Jones adopted to avoid confusion with the Monkees singer.


Dan Karreman 07.02.06 at 4:07 pm

Dan, you present an odd list. Only two of the names on the list has advanced further than England. And it contains no one from Portugal, who is more impotent than England striker-wise, and that was true even after Rooney was sent off. But they are in the semi-finals. At this stage, it really is luck, tradition (compare England’s penalties with Germany’s) and the odd great move of the truly great footballer (aka Zidane) that makes the difference.


Jackmormon 07.02.06 at 6:12 pm

Okay, so Sunday was my first chance to watch English striker Crouch play–the gigantic gangly guy–and I was underimpressed. The Portuguese defenders seemed to be able to dribble through his legs, and he always seemed a half-second behind in every reaction. Was this just a bad match for him, or am I right in suspecting that his size and physique come with some limitations?


Jon H 07.02.06 at 6:49 pm

Beckham would probably play better if Posh didn’t wear his balls for earrings.


Rob G 07.02.06 at 7:44 pm

Jackmormon, I’ll resist the temptation to spell your name with one “m”. Given his assigned task as lone striker in a depleted side, Crouch performed admirably. He held up the ball and layed it off well when he could, showing no little skill. Ideally he’d have a bit more acceleration, but as Rummy said “the army you’ve got”, etc.

Ray is right. Lennon always made England more threatening. Beckham is a one-trick pony.

All that said, my main beef with England was why they didn’t dominate midfield, with Gerrard, Lampard, Cole and the (excellent) Hargreaves.


Dan Kervick 07.02.06 at 8:20 pm

Dan, you present an odd list. Only two of the names on the list has advanced further than England. And it contains no one from Portugal, who is more impotent than England striker-wise, and that was true even after Rooney was sent off.

I didn’t mean to suggest that having a world class scorer guarantees a trip to the semis – only that lacking one makes it very difficult to advance that far.

I did mention both Ronaldos in my list – including Cristiano from Portugal. Pauleta, Figo and C. Ronaldo all appear to me to be more dangerous scoring threats than anyone England had out there yesterday. I’m sure with Owen and a 100% Rooney, England would have a much more potent attack. But I think Portugal has had the stronger side overall in this particular tournament.


Wax Banks 07.02.06 at 9:24 pm

Jackmormon – I’m with rob g, Crouch played his ass off in that match, and he had no simple job all alone in front. For a big man he’s as agile as you could possibly want, excellent in the corner on the turnaround, and of course on setpieces he’s deadly. Portugal scraped by.

(I’m for eliminating penalty kicks entirely, myself. But I love marathon sporting events, and hate the arbitrariness of penalties.)

All the Beckham criticism rubs me the wrong way; he’s a bit lazy and invisible much of the time but I’ve never seen a footballer who can place the ball as precisely as he can, and his corners and free kicks must horrify his opponents. He’s one of those players who can carry a game on his shoulders with only a moment’s involvement.

The greatest living Englishman isn’t Andrew Sullivan? Huh?


Paul Newman 07.03.06 at 5:10 am

Beckham is an honourable man.

I’ll second that, and what’s more, Wayne Rooney is a little thug. Previous red cards for shoving opposing players in the face after the whistle, etc. Sportswriters indulgently refer to his “mercurial temperament” but he should really be stripped of the national colours for dishonoring Queen and country. Except you’d get laughed at in England for such high-minded pretension.

That said, look at the rest of this tournament: pocked and marred by turf-diving nancies and aggro assholes from every nation, fans everywhere disgusted by the cynical dishonest way the game is played now. If there was one nation poised better than any other to play good clean football it was Britain – Rooney is only the third Englishman sent off in a WC game, because there is a strong tradition of English fair play, etc.

England could have fielded an honourable side, and though they might not have lifted the trophy, they would have won the admiration of the world, for playing the game idealistically in a debased and cynical age. Instead they fielded a thorough blackguard, called upon him to be the English messiah, no less, and got an entirely predictable result.

A team full of David Beckhams, now, that would be a team to watch. They might not win every match but they would surely restore the “beautiful game.”


Ray 07.03.06 at 6:03 am

A team full of David Beckhams would get wiped off the pitch. He can’t run, he can’t tackle, and he can’t beat players. England weren’t winning the admiration of the world before Saturday, and the certainly wouldn’t with a team like that.
Rooney, on the other hand, is a footballing natural, who can take your breath away, and it’s flair like that that wins fans.
Oh, btw “DAVID BECKHAM has accumulated six red cards in his career: one for Manchester United , two for England (against Argentina and Austria) and three for Real Madrid. Beckham is the only official captain to be sent off in England’s history, the only England player to be sent off twice and only the tenth since internationals began in 1872.”


Jackmormon 07.03.06 at 6:43 am

Rob G, Wax Banks, you’re right that he had no easy role. Thanks for the vigorous defense–I’ll look forward to watching more of Crouch’s play.


reuben 07.03.06 at 9:30 am

Does anyone else agree that the Beckham problem – great for the first few years of his captaincy, but then a liability at the end – is exactly why McLaren should choose John Terry over Gerrard?

By the next world cup, Terry should still be in excellent form (29-year-old central defenders are often at their peak), whereas at 30 Gerrard will be very old for a marauding midfielder. Choosing Gerrard now invites the same type of problem Erickson had this time round with Beckham.


Ray 07.03.06 at 9:41 am

I think the problem is more with the idea that once you name a captain you can’t drop him from the team and you can’t pass the armband to someone else without creating a crisis.


reuben 07.03.06 at 10:39 am

Exactly – so if you have the choice, you don’t opt for someone who is likely to be some way past his prime at the next world cup.


Rob G 07.04.06 at 9:32 am

Reuben, Bryan Robson played for England until 1991-92, when he would have been 34 or 35.

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