Monday, 14 June 2010

The Strange Persistence of Robert Green in the Memory

After England-USA, blogger Anwyn Crawford posed via Twitter the rhetorical question 'How long before Robert Green is erased from English soccer history, Stalin style?'

For a second I was completely baffled - was I misreading it? Green, erased? Then I realized that being Australian, Anwyn has grown up with an entirely different conception of sporting failure.

When your national team regularly wins, and occasionally loses, those losses (and their culprits) become blots to be extinguished from the historical record. Some Australians may be completely unable to recall there being a 2005, let alone the cricketing events of its summer.

The English national football team and its supporters have no such luxury. It's won plenty of games, it arguably outperforms reasonable expectation (see penultimate question here). But without the actual imprimatur of a Major Trophy, its status as a Major Football Power remains embarrassingly honorary. It's been 44 years since England won a competition. This could more kindly be described as 22 tournaments - you can't win something every year. But still, in that context, what and who do the English fans excise from their memory banks? Or rather, where do they stop?

I pity Green though, because in a key sense he hasn't failed enough. For those who miss match-deciding penalties, the severity of the stakes becomes their salvation. Through martyrdom they are absolved of blame, reborn washed in the tears of tabloid pity, after which they rise again in the sixth year to rehearse their tragedy as a Pizza Hut advert.

Green didn't even cost England the match, let alone a place in the knock-out stage, just the win. His fate will be to join the increasingly crowded press purgatory where England goalkeepers are now kept. Peter Bonetti has never been forgotten, nor forgiven, nor especially vilified for his famous error against West Germany in 1970. But Green is part of a more recent run.

Before Green there was Carson.

Before Carson there was Robinson.

Before Carson there was Seaman.

And before Seaman there was, er, Seaman.

Seaman's position at the root of this dread inheritance is suspicious: the occult reasoning towards which fanthought declines suggests that subsequent England keepers have been a) suffering the karmic retribution of the Universe in atonement for that ponytail or b) paying off a Faustian bargain made by Seaman to secure said ponytail. It may be as prosaic as statistical distribution though: England had two of the world's best keepers (Shilton and Clemence) in the 80s, so a shortage in the 00s is simply the drought which corrects that surplus to a reasonable average.

Afterthought: the election of a Conservative government does perhaps suggest massive collective amnesia is real.

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