Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ping-pong's coming home!

Ah, dear old Boris! He may be the world's most slovenly public figure, but he seems to manage to get away with any fashion disaster, any gaucheness, any lapse of tact - because he is, dammit, such a beguilingly jolly fellow.

Here is the speech he made at the 'London House' exihibition centre here in Beijing on Sunday night, shortly after receiving the Olympic flag on London's behalf at the grand Olympics Closing Ceremony. In keeping with the sly wit of Britain's contribution to the ceremony (satirising the shortcomings of Chinese manners when boarding public transport and when driving on the roads), he made gentle fun of the Chinese propensity to claim that they invented everything - including football, skiing, golf - by pointing out that China's favourite sport, ping-pong, was actually invented in England. Good stuff!

Non-Brits who fail to get the "coming home" reference should check out this post of mine from a couple of months ago.


Froog said...

Just in case people baffled by the "coming home" reference can't be bothered to follow the link, or watch the second YouTube clip on that post....

"It's coming home, it's coming home,
It's coming..... football's coming home!"
was the surprisingly infectious refrain of the theme song for the '96 Euro Championships. It was the first time Britain had hosted a major tournament in 30 years (since our wonderful, improbable home victory in the 1966 World Cup)..... so, the thinking was (more sentimental and cautiously optimistic than arrogantly triumphalist): "Goddammit, we invented this game, we taught the rest of the world how to play it; not that we're finally on home turf again, maybe we'll finally enjoy another victory."

It was a great singalong song (just about the only song of this kind I can remember that's ever been any good!), and became - for us Brits - inextricably entwined with the memories, the mythology of that tournament (some of the best football our national team has ever played; and we were painfully unlucky to get beaten on penalties in the semi-final).

Thus, a simple but very evocative phrase.

The British Cowboy said...

I think we have had this argument before, but how improbably was 1966? If you mean improbable as in "however good England are, they still manage to screw up, so winning is improbable" that would be fine.

Otherwise, well, home teams have a major advantage in World Cups. And England were really bloody good. Maybe not the absolute best team in the world, though we could more potentially have been called that in 1970, but certainly very good indeed.

The spine of the team - Banks, Moore, Charlton, Charlton, Hunt - were all world class players. The rest of the team were no shirkers either.

Froog said...

I suspect those judgements were only made in retrospect.

We had been performing disappointingly at the international level for some time before, and have continued to do ever afterwards. No denying that we had a very strong team that year, but everyone I've spoken to old enough to remember that tournament (though admittedly their memories may be corrupted by subsequent disappointments) seems to have felt that we were a Top 4 team, but not, even with home advantage, likely winners. People fancied Portugal, Brazil, Germany, even Russia much more.

Looking back, given our record in the 40-odd years since of being pants, or not pants but woefully underperforming, or fairly pants but overperforming and outrageously unlucky, the idea that we could ever have won anything under any circumstances begins to seem amazingly improbable.

Froog said...

Ping-pong may be "coming home", but I very much doubt if we'll be winning any medals at it.

The British Cowboy said...

I think a top-4 team is a fair estimate; and in the nature of international football, I don't think it is a surprise if a top-4 team wins a knock out competition.

Froog said...

Yes, it perhaps wasn't an amazing surprise at the time.

It's just that looking back through our dismal history of not being able to win a big game to save our lives, it seems kind of amazing and unbelievable now.