Our nation’s split sporting personality still haunts football

Jack Wilshere.
Jack Wilshere.

Footballers smoking?

Whatever next?

The pictures of Jack Wilshere larking with Champagne and fags in the pool on holiday with mates did him no favours.

Nor did they do the image of English football much good.

A third-rate World Cup showing, the best English players stubbornly unable to add up to a decent team and a perception that our top stars earn far more than they can justify adds up to a depressing picture .

But it’s not really a surprise, is it?

It’s all about culture.

Football in this country has traditionally been the preserve of the lads who couldn’t or didn’t want to follow the academic path.

Dominated by a laddish dressing-room culture of brutal banter, group solidarity and a win-or-lose-have-some booze attitude to unwinding, football until recently was a little bit rock and roll.

Great money, fame and adoration, plenty of time off and queues of females wanting to share their good fortune would be a demi-paradise to athletic young men in any era of history.

Then those pesky foreigners started to take it seriously and ruined it for everyone. Well, ruined it for us anyway.

As much as we try to be professional through education, academies, the latest excercise and fitness diagnostics and study of tactics, we haven’t shaken off the old ways entirely.

British footballers still have a whiff of Jack-the-lad-bunking-off-training- to-drink-and-smoke-in-a-nightclub about them and every picture of them doing so keeps that stuff going.

Our football culture retains old echoes of group rebellion and eccentric individuality.

Our split sporting personality is part working class against-all-odds mentality triumphing over adversity through graft and determination - think The Great Escape, Porridge, Alf Tupper - where heroes overcome better prepared and better equipped opponents through humour, guts and will power.

Contrast that with the public-school toff who never trains and only puts his Champagne glass and cigarette holder down long enough to win games at the death through his thoroughbred’s natural ability.

We are trapped between stereotypes and appear to be as far behind others as we were in 1953 when Hungary came to Wembley and destroyed us.

What’s the answer?

Maybe there isn’t one.