Financial Times

English football likes to see itself as occupying a high moral plain. It also enjoys the praise sometimes lavished on the English game by footballers from more successful nations. At the beginning of the season Uwe Rosler, the former German international now managing Brentford, told me “In my four and a half years I learnt that English football is honest. In Germany sometimes you went down and tried to get a free kick. It was natural and we called it clever play. When I came to Manchester City I did it once or twice. The manager, Brian Horton, and the players came to me and said very clearly, ‘You do that not one more time’. There was a sense of justice in the group.”

Given that England, despite inventing the game, has won nothing since the 1966 World Cup this could be some solace. The fans can say: “We may not win, but we uphold the principles of fair play.” It also fits in with the general national attitude. Despite having had the greatest empire in the world, from which it derived vast benefits, this country – or at least its historians – likes to dwell on the benefits the empire brought to millions and how it was a moral force for the good. Both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan evoked such moral sentiments.

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