The English soccer workforce 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, a very powerful phrase in James Graham’s splendidly entertaining and thought scary play Pricey England. They have been mentioned by Pippa Grange, a psychologist, to Gareth Southgate, the supervisor of the England soccer workforce. She might have been speaking in regards to the soccer workforce, 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 workforce, 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 in opposition to Germany in Euro 96, inflicting England to be eradicated. Later within the play we get some thought of how lacking that penalty scarred him for all times.

Southgate was patronisingly appointed as interim supervisor till the Soccer Affiliation might get a correct supervisor, however from the start he mentioned that one thing was fallacious. He wasn’t positive what, however he did know that England had persistently fallen quick since profitable the World Cup in 1966, usually 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 mentioned to the gamers and officers, a “new story.” The “outdated story”—that England have been one of the best workforce on the earth and would quickly win extra World and European cups—was clearly fallacious. 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 workforce wanted time, however what else did they want?

They wanted to be a workforce not a group of people, they usually wanted to play with out worry. 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 girl might assist, however Southgate endured. She needed the gamers to bond with one another and even hold a journal.

The take a look at of the workforce 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 England would possibly 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 in opposition to France. The workforce 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 workforce.

The reinvention, the brand new story, was not a whole success, however England did do a lot better than in a lot of the years between 1966 and 2018. These within the viewers who know one thing about soccer additionally know that the present England workforce is enjoying extraordinarily properly and “with out worry,” as a number of commentators observe.

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

The nation story is just not dissimilar from the outdated story of the English soccer workforce: virtually inside residing reminiscence we had the biggest empire the world has ever seen and we “gained” two world wars (after all, we didn’t, somewhat the Americas and the Russians did). We’re a terrific nation, an distinctive one: that’s our story. That is, after all, fallacious. We’re a small nation that’s deeply divided and impoverished, has reduce itself adrift from Europe, has quickly declining international affect, and has even turn into a worldwide 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 pacesetter who can information us by means of such a course of? No person is in sight.

The NHS story can also be much like the outdated story of the soccer workforce and the nation. We have been the primary on the earth to have common well being protection (truly 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 fallacious. The NHS is combating enormous ready lists, poorer outcomes than many different nations, a demoralised workforce, and plenty of unfilled posts; but it’s consuming increasingly more of public funds, inflicting underfunding of many different programmes, together with lots of these which can be extra necessary for well being. We want a brand new story, however all we appear to have are variations on the outdated story.

The play illustrated how reinvention has been potential for no less than 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 evaluation: not commissioned, not externally peer reviewed.