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Performance anxiety is a hazard in all skilled behaviour. Whatever the level of motor skills, and however much repeated practice is put in, it is an essential part of human nature to worry about what may happen, and to contemplate the possibility of failure. This is not all bad, since anxiety can be the spur to greater preparations, and to checking things which may go wrong. Things which may go wrong do go wrong sometimes, so it is better to reassure one’s self by testing them. The downside is that the ability to worry about what may happen may wash out natural ability, and supplant it with saucy doubts and fears which cripple performance.

The England football team feel cursed by penalties. The coach of the current England team, Gareth Southgate, still flinches at the memory of his own missed penalty shot decades ago, and reportedly has therefore ruefully given his team special training in this nerve-wracking final shootout. In actual fact, a footballer kicking from the penalty spot should always beat the goalkeeper, who cannot move over his line until the ball has been kicked. The goal is large, with four corners out of reach, so the odds are stacked in favour of the penalty taker. Easy. And therein lies the rub. Success is expected, and failure is more deeply shameful in this simple, one-kick task.

Since England qualified for the Euro final, national expectations had been sky-high. It is 55 years since England won the World Cup, and it seemed natural to hope that the golden prize would now return to its origins, a rightful homecoming for the sport that England gave the world. The nation was unified in patriotic hope. Even those not usually interested in the game suddenly took notice.

As always, there are some political and racial under-tones. Immigrant Muslim communities stressed their sporting loyalties, at a time when their national loyalty (living parallel lives) is in question. Black players who had come up from humble origins recounted their life stories, including over-coming racial barriers. The English team “take the knee” at the beginning of each game, so race and politics were heavily signalled. The unifying spirit of sport was often invoked, and seemed real.

The game itself began with dream-like England goal, one of the fastest in recent history. The English opening style was inventive, adventurous and emphatic. A beautiful goal to begin a beautiful game. Thereafter England continued to shine, but failed to score again against a bewildered and unsettled Italian team. An opportunity squandered. The second half belonged to Italy, who came out with new resolve, and were wily, professionally foul, more highly skilled, and finally scored again, a deserved outcome of their flowing game.

After extra time, the game had to be resolved by a penalty shootout, which to English ears is like being fitted-out by a hangman with your own personal noose. The English goal-keeper was a star, saving two penalties. The English penalty-takers should have won the match, but they blew it. Their legs turned to jelly. The curse is now confirmed. Whatever the English team achieves on the field, they always lose on penalties. Recriminations have already begun. Sending out youngsters to face this purgatory seems to have been unwise. Older more scarred veterans might have done better.

What is to be done? If the best England team for many year cannot learn to take penalties when their coach has his failure still stamped into his soul and it determined to expunge it, what hope for England ever? How can any practice truly simulate the reality of being personally responsible for an outcome desperately expected by your team, a massive 60,000 cheering stadium audience, 31 million watching it on TV and an entire nation hoping for the best?

Perhaps the solution lies earlier in the game. England has a creative, inventive and piratical past. It gave the industrial revolution to the world, and still has some animal spirits left. Perhaps the only salvation is to play the game as a game, with daring and abandon, as if they enjoyed it. England is or was a Protestant country, playing a nominally Catholic one. Perhaps the solace of confession makes Catholics live more easily, and not fear eternal damnation when they sin, or miss penalties. I doubt this, after the way French Catholics treat players who miss penalties, but this is the time for casting about for understanding.

The English might be also characterized as being wracked with guilt and shame. Better to fall unobserved in the heat of battle than to fail in a public examination, judged sourly by a whole nation. They were called before the headmaster, when they preferred playing football in the streets, and failed the exam.

Football’s history pre-dates the first written descriptions of 1170 “After dinner all the youths of the city goes out into the fields for the very popular game of ball.” It was seen as capable of rising tumults “from which many evils may arise”. It was often banned because of the violence it caused between villages. In many ways football with its rules and conventions is a semi-decorous substitute for warfare, with a symbolic home space in the goal to be defended against marauders. Better this than an actual war.

All is not lost. The nail-biting agony will be repeated next year, in the World Cup. There will be no shortage of opinions, and lessons supposedly learned from last time. It might be a time of hope, but this feels as if it was one of England’s best chances, and it slipped away, in caution, hesitancy and shame.

 
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  1. Tor597 says:

    Man, I’m loving all the pain this game of soccer has caused these English cunts.

    This author mentions the whole taking a knee in racial solidarity, but failed to mention all the hate the 3 black players faced after the game.

    Nice fake country you have there.

  2. MarkU says:

    Performance anxiety is a hazard in all skilled behaviour.

    Some people are better at overcoming performance anxiety than others and that ability is part of a persons strength. If two players (X & Y) have identical abilities in all other respects but Y is more affected by performance anxiety, then X is the better player, there is no point in overthinking it.

  3. LondonBob says:

    Mancini is a better coach, the issue seems the lack of intelligent footballers or outsiders going in to coaching. Southgate just watched the Italians take control and never used the subs. Carbon copy of 2018 against Croatia. Astonishing how little football Grealish and Foden got, I really do wonder if there was another agenda.

    The politicisation of this whole tournament has been deeply disturbing, along with the lockdowns we appear to be going towards some disturbing places, I really have more serious concerns these days than my football teams.

    • Agree: Right_On, Curmudgeon
  4. Why did Southgate bring in 2 inexperienced young black penalty kickers a minute before the shoot out? Why were the last 3 kickers all black?

    Obviously it was apart of the agenda of the FA. They wanted to have a young black man be the hero of England. They have been promoting this diversity and kneeling nonsense for so long it is sickening. Ask any footy fan and they would all have a different lineup of PK takers.

    No excuse putting in 3 young inexperienced players that were playing poorly, other than they are all black.

  5. @Beetlejuice

    Before you say “hindsight is 20/20” every fan I chatted with online had a different PK lineup before the shootout. It was clear each team was playing for penalties by the 20th minute.

    It really makes no sense, they picked their subs and lineup with a political agenda and I understand why many English fans are infuriated.

  6. @Beetlejuice

    England lost on account of wokism. The US military is restructuring on the basis of wokism. This time the consequences will be real.

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/if-war-comes-will-the-u-s-navy-be-prepared-11626041901

    • Replies: @Beetlejuice
  7. Antiwar7 says:

    Maybe this is payback for being the #1 vassal of the Evil Empire.

  8. Because the English team were the most fanatical and ardent kneelers I am satisfied that they did NOT win the tournament…

    • Agree: BluEidDvl
  9. @Beetlejuice

    They wanted to have a young black man be the hero of England.

    If England had won the penalty shoot-out, it would have been hailed as a triumph of diversity and of black contributions to English achievement. Yet when they lost, anyone who pointed out the racial angle was automatically deemed a racist. Not only those whose criticism was revolting; but also those who stuck to the facts. And also those whose criticism did not have a racial angle.

    For example, several people suggested that instead of getting involved in political debates over school dinners, Marcus Rashford should have spent more time practising penalties. Some of them have since been forced to apologise for this quite reasonable criticism.

  10. dearieme says:

    If your players are going to cave in to anxiety in a shoot-out then it would be wise to concentrate on winning the match rather than drawing. Easily said: the Italian team probably was the best in the tournament. Against England they had the better goalie, the better central defence, the better midfield, and the best attacker (until he went off injured). It’s hard to say they didn’t deserve their win. But even they needed a scruffy goal and a shoot-out to win the final, just as they’d needed a shoot-out to win their semi-final.

    Football is a low-scoring game so you must always expect luck to play a large part whenever two teams are even approximately well matched. As well as fielding a strong side Italy were lucky twice in a row. And so it goes.

    • Replies: @John Pepple
  11. BuelahMan says:

    Imagine that I, as an American, have even less affinity for soccer than I do American football (at this point, I despise).

    I hope all forms of Liberia Ball go the way of the Dodo.

  12. Hillbob says:

    Never knew that I would be rooting for Italy

  13. Realist says:

    Why write about something as inane and nugatory as athletics, especially when the world is in such dire straights?

    • Replies: @Greta Handel
  14. SafeNow says:

    “How can any practice truly simulate the reality…”

    Did the coach at least try? What did he do? If nothing, why not? I have not seen any reporting on this.

    The counterpart is the field-goal kicker in U.S. football. How often do coaches bring over the cheerleaders and marching band to heckle him?

  15. @SeekerofthePresence

    Yes that is the best comparison.

    Just like Americans have many patriots whom vehemently reject militaristic wokeism, yet are honestly not bigots nor racists, I am sure England have millions of fans whom are not racist but would of chosen a different PK lineup.

    Imagine losing a war to protect your country because you have transsexuals, gays, and women focused on genitalia and pregnancy issues instead of winning the war. Or imagine there are issues of loyalty when you have a force of grunts that are dual citizens and joined our military only for handouts.

    I know many service members who left the military and became extreme bigots and racists because they saw the effects it had on their beloved country’s fighting force. I imagine many English men have now woken up to what a joke their government is now.

    • Thanks: SeekerofthePresence
  16. The Italians are “Machiavellian” type soccer players. They do anything to win–cry, fall down needlessly, foul opponents excessively, etc. Of course, none of this is to say they don’t play a mean and professional style of soccer. I’ve just never preferred their game.

  17. Notsofast says:

    the real purpose of this game may be to provide an excuse for more lockdowns. i’m hearing how they weren’t checking for inoculations or negative test results before admitting fans. the u.k. is supposed to be coming out of restrictions next week. the italians now have thousands of fans returning home and celebrating in the streets. it just smells like an excuse to blame the uninoculated for a new wave and shame more people into these genetic engineering experiments. no mention made of the mrna vaccine inefficiency against the delta variant, of course.

  18. @Tor597

    “all the hate the 3 black players faced after the game”

    I have no idea how much, if any, hate they faced. The trouble is that we’re reliant on media to tell us this, and our media is hopelessly corrupt. I know the BBC and Guardian were all poised to celebrate the black players had we won, the Mayor of London tweeted that we wouldn’t have a team without immigration. When we lost, the temptation to turn the media spotlight away from the penalty missers and onto their critics must have been overwhelming.

    (Not that I think Sancho and Co carry the can – the buck stops squarely with Southgate. Italy pressed forward all second half, where were the speedy breakaway attacks to exploit that? Nowhere.)

    I’m surprised he used so many black kickers though, given the statistical record.

    https://www.sportingnews.com/us/soccer/news/england-lose-penalty-kick-shootout-list-updated-pk-losses/1t6kaw0b5iytm197iwvvxn8d97

    Since 2000* up to kick-off , black players had taken 7 shootout penalties and missed 3 of them, a 43% fail rate, white players had taken 19 and missed 5 of them, a 26% fail rate.

    * prior to 2000, only one black player, Paul Ince, had taken a shootout penalty.

    • Replies: @Kratoklastes
    , @res
  19. martin_2 says:
    @Tor597

    What pain? Reaching the final is an achievement in itself and they were beaten by the better side on the night. The team is not especially outstanding so no English fan, most of whom have been here before, had any expectations.

    • Replies: @Tor597
  20. Resartus says:

    I have no idea how much, if any, hate they faced.

    You are talking about English Soccer (it is an English term) fans???

    Look into their history, no doubt more fans have been arrested starting riots than
    any English team has won games…..

    • Replies: @res
  21. lloyd says: • Website

    England the name and the reality is resurfacing as a real country. The U.K. in practice has already broken up to deal with Covi-19. Brexit was mostly about an English break away. Only England, I think, voted in a majority for Brexit, of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Now this huge issue of defeat of the English team it seems by the weak link of the black players. The English people don’t have to break away from U.K. just sit back and let it be done for them.

    • Replies: @Diane
    , @lloyd
  22. @YetAnotherAnon

    prior to 2000, only one black player, Paul Ince, had taken a shootout penalty.

    … don’t keep folks in suspense: they’ll be quite annoyed when they find out he missed.

    • Replies: @Resartus
    , @lloyd
  23. @Realist

    Sportsball remains a safely banal, popular topic among an audience that’s disproportionately older and male. This one was a layup for reassuring readers that they’re better than black people.

    The HBD, etc., columnists at Unz tend to be anything but dissident or insightful when it comes to other subjects anyway. See also, Derbyshire, Kersey, Sailer.

    • Agree: Realist
  24. @dearieme

    Football is a low-scoring game so you must always expect luck to play a large part whenever two teams are even approximately well matched. As well as fielding a strong side Italy were lucky twice in a row. And so it goes.

    England was very lucky with its first goal. I’ve seen lots of players take shots like that, and generally the result is a shot that is high and wide, or it arcs over towards the corner flag, or it goes right at the goalie. Or maybe the players misses the ball completely and looks foolish.

  25. Resartus says:
    @Kratoklastes

    … don’t keep folks in suspense: they’ll be quite annoyed when they find out he missed.

    Seeing where the discussion has gone….
    How many black goalkeepers have there been for majority
    white country teams…. how have they done in shootouts….

    Can’t forget the ups and downs discussions of Black NFL Coaches/Quarterbacks over the last 30 years…..

  26. hillaire says:
    @Tor597

    Such hate..300,ooo pounds a week and hero worship… these africans would be treated much better in Liberia.. and it would save all the fake tears cried by the establishment and BBC ( that’s the british broadcasting corporation to you)…

    I know

    nome i’m sayin…

  27. res says:
    @YetAnotherAnon

    I have no idea how much, if any, hate they faced. The trouble is that we’re reliant on media to tell us this, and our media is hopelessly corrupt.

    Yes. The notable thing about the articles I have seen condemning all of the “racist!” reaction is how seldom (ever?) they actually make clear what was said.

  28. res says:
    @Resartus

    It would be interesting to compare the current reaction to the response to past examples of football players/coaches choking.

  29. England has starting arresting people for making fun of the failure of blacks. That country isn’t free at all.

  30. Diane says:
    @lloyd

    Wales also voted to leave the EU.

  31. lloyd says: • Website
    @lloyd

    Thanks. Wales is Wales, a land descended from Celts and renegade English. Since the mine closures, it has had generational unemployment as a way of life. The majority voted to leave because they were brain washed that E U is the source of their poverty when in reality Wales was heavily subsidised by E U. Wales has an Assembly instead of a Parliament. I think most Welsh are content at Government at the local level rather than a fantasy of Welsh independence. However I am sure there is a lunatic element dreaming of Welsh independence and rewriting the Treaty of King Edward the First in the thirteenth century. He promised them their Prince would not be able to speak a word of English. He thereupon produced his baby as the Prince of Wales. That is the cornerstone of the English Welsh relationship

  32. lloyd says: • Website
    @Kratoklastes

    A race realist might say, blacks are not good at goal keeping. Maybe, that requires a scientific precision and mental discipline. I feel sorry for them at that game. The pressure to succeed was so great, anxiety overtook them. In my glib job in New Zealand, there are a small minority of whites and those appear to be almost all Jews. If the woke Government in New Zealand imposes diversity there, they would have to bring in whites. Of course that won’t happen.

  33. @Tor597

    Britain was a million times better off when it was black free. Within living memory too.

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