England’s exit is a win for World Cup losers

England team’s unique ability to inspire universal joy when they lose gives a boost to other sides heading home from the Rugby World Cup.

England were pretty hard on themselves after their 19-12 Rugby World Cup quarter-final defeat to France on Saturday night, but if it’s any consolation to them – their performance made a lot of people happy.

An Ireland team who had been tipped for great things, after winning all four pool matches, had earlier been knocked out by Wales in Wellington.

The traditional good humour of the Irish fans didn’t quite shine through in that 22-10 loss, with a number of them ejected from their seats, and one or two fights breaking out between men clad in green.

But they had plenty to cheer about just afterwards, as they lapped up England’s capitulation to France in Auckland. If it wasn’t for the lack of berets and stripey shirts, you’d have thought they were French.

England are the team people love to hate. Maybe hate’s too strong. They are the team people like to dislike. The rivalries stretch round the globe, much like their empire once did.

That link might be an obvious one.

People don’t tend to like folk who bring war and conquest to their doorsteps, even if it (most of it) was a while ago now – and has absolutely nothing to do with 15 players jogging around in tight white jerseys.

“England is like Argentina in South America,” a journalist covering the Pumas – who face New Zealand in the quarter-finals on Sunday night – told me last month.

“Everyone hates Argentina too. But everyone still hates England.”

Engaging him on the subject of the Falklands War in the 1980s didn’t bear much fruit, as the conversation turned to the folly of the Argentine generals at the time.

Many Argentines do hate England – or Britain – for that war (Diego Maradona being a good example), but whether that explains a more general dislike is uncertain.

Siege mentality

English sporting teams tend to enjoy a siege mentality. Manchester United thrive on it. An underperforming rugby team made the most of it at the 2007 World Cup by reaching the final. Not this time.

But for the national team in football and rugby, it’s not quite a no-one-likes-us-we-don’t-care attitude. The fans are always slightly hurt by the fact that nobody cheers for them.

You will tend to get English fans choosing Ireland, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland as a second team.

But rarely will the opposite happen, even among those who count themselves British as well as Scottish, Irish or Welsh.

Outside the British Isles, matters seem to have become worse now that an English rather than British patriotism has sprung up. Possibly not helped by the English flag being a symbol of the crusades in the middle ages.

“Years ago, you used to see the Union Jack flown everywhere,” an Australian fan told me at the Ireland v Wales match.

“Now it’s the St George cross. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth.”

In football, England have built up a hatred through the hooligan element of their fans. But calling it the English disease is unfair. Plenty of countries have hooligans – Italy, Germany, Croatia, Argentina, even Sweden.

There just seems to be something about three lions or a red rose on a white shirt that annoys people. It’s a bit of a shame, because England probably has the same percentage of nice people as anywhere else does.

The old adage about the Oxford student “hating all things American, but never having met an American he didn’t like” rings true for us Anglo-Saxons in most cases, hopefully. Unless you happen to have met Joey Barton on a football pitch.

The good thing about a Rugby World Cup over the football version is that the fans mix together well, and the rest of the globe gets to see that good English side – rather than having a chair hurled through their café window.

And it’s not like they never get any empathy.

“I’m supporting England,” a German rugby player told me, after she’d thrown her hands up in despair at one of England’s mistakes on Saturday.

“I don’t like England. But I like France even less.”

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