The English soccer crew has a brand new story, however we badly want ones for the entire nation and the NHS

“England must discover ways to lose” was, I assumed, crucial phrase in James Graham’s splendidly entertaining and thought scary play Expensive England. They had been stated by Pippa Grange, a psychologist, to Gareth Southgate, the supervisor of the England soccer crew. She might have been speaking in regards to the soccer crew, or she might have been speaking about the entire nation and its establishments, together with the NHS.

The play tells the story of Southgate’s time as supervisor of the England crew, however the fleeting appearances of gormless prime ministers clarify {that a} broader message is meant. The play begins with the defining second in Southgate’s profession as a footballer when he failed to attain a penalty in England’s semi-final match towards Germany in Euro 96, inflicting England to be eradicated. Later within the play we get some concept of how lacking that penalty scarred him for all times.

Southgate was patronisingly appointed as interim supervisor till the Soccer Affiliation may get a correct supervisor, however from the start he stated that one thing was flawed. He wasn’t certain what, however he did know that England had constantly fallen brief since profitable the World Cup in 1966, typically failing even to qualify for main tournaments regardless of having individually good gamers. He additionally noticed that England had by no means—sure, by no means—gained a penalty shootout.

We want, he stated to the gamers and officers, a “new story.” The “previous story”—that England had been one of the best crew on the earth and would quickly win extra World and European cups—was clearly flawed. He proposed a narrative in three acts—the current disarray, a second act of reconstruction, and a 3rd act of profitable the World Cup not in Russia in 2018, however in Qatar in 2022. The crew wanted time, however what else did they want?

They wanted to be a crew not a group of people, they usually wanted to play with out concern. That is the place Pippa Grange, a psychologist who labored on tradition, entered the image. The gamers and different officers thought it nonsense {that a} psychologist and a lady may assist, however Southgate endured. She needed the gamers to bond with one another and even hold a journal.

The check of the crew comes when England have a penalty shootout with Colombia within the 2018 World Cup. Penalty shootouts are at all times excessive drama, and Graham makes it one of many excessive factors of the play. Though one participant misses his penalty, England win, breaking their curse, and the opposite gamers console not shun the participant who misses.

Southgate, in all probability unwisely, accelerates his authentic timetable by going together with the concept that England may win the 2020 (delayed till 2021 due to the pandemic) European championship. England did make it to the ultimate, and Southgate introduced on three gamers, all of them Black, on the finish of the match to take the penalties. All of them failed to attain, precipitating a torrent of racially-charged abuse. Then England are eradicated from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar when Harry Kane, the captain who by no means misses penalties, misses one towards France. The crew comforted him, and there wasn’t the abuse there had been after the 2021 failure. That occurs close to the top of the play, however the play lastly ends in pleasure with the viewers becoming a member of in to sing Candy Caroline, the anthem of the English crew.

The reinvention, the brand new story, was not an entire success, however England did do a lot better than in many of the years between 1966 and 2018. These within the viewers who know one thing about soccer additionally know that the present England crew is taking part in extraordinarily effectively and “with out concern,” as a number of commentators observe.

But when the story is usually pleased for the soccer crew it isn’t for both the nation or the NHS.

The nation story just isn’t dissimilar from the previous story of the English soccer crew: virtually inside dwelling reminiscence we had the biggest empire the world has ever seen and we “gained” two world wars (in fact, we didn’t, quite the Americas and the Russians did). We’re a fantastic nation, an distinctive one: that’s our story. That is, in fact, flawed. We’re a small nation that’s deeply divided and impoverished, has reduce itself adrift from Europe, has quickly declining world affect, and has even change into a world laughing inventory with its succession of hopeless and dishonest prime ministers. We want a brand new story and an act of reconstruction—however the place is a frontrunner who can information us via such a course of? No one is in sight.

The NHS story can also be just like the previous story of the soccer crew and the nation. We had been the primary on the earth to have common well being protection (really we weren’t), and the NHS is one of the best well being system on the earth and universally admired (though by no means copied, as many have noticed). The story can also be flawed. The NHS is combating big ready lists, poorer outcomes than many different international locations, a demoralised workforce, and lots of unfilled posts; but it’s consuming increasingly of public funds, inflicting underfunding of many different programmes, together with a lot of these which might be extra necessary for well being. We want a brand new story, however all we appear to have are variations on the previous story.

The play illustrated how reinvention has been doable for at the very least one British establishment, however we badly want new tales for the entire nation and for the NHS. Can leaders emerge?


  • Competing pursuits: none declared.

  • Provenance and peer evaluate: not commissioned, not externally peer reviewed.