When does self-confidence veer off towards arrogance?

Is it ever possible for the victorious to display just a little bit too much swagger?

Does the fact that I’m asking these questions point to the reason why British sport is littered with heroic failures, rather than glorious winners?

Over recent days I’ve been pondering success and the trappings it can provide. It started with the ignominious failure of the much-hyped English football team to reach the finals of the European championships.

It continued with the fact that Gordon Brown’s apparent successful transition from Chancellor to Prime Minister has well and truly ground to a halt. His supposed assured and confident handling of successive crises when first stepping into No.10 Downing Street has been replaced by a stuttering and hesitant performance.

It culminated with watching new world champions South Africa ease to victory over Wales this weekend.

Of the three – England, Gordon Brown and South Africa – only one has seemingly taken on board what success actually means. South Africa have earned the right to display the swagger of champions by deservedly winning the Rugby World Cup and certainly seemed to be expressing themselves quite happily in Cardiff on Saturday.

In contrast, both the English football side and Gordon Brown have been led to believe they are successful without really proving it where it matters and so earning the right to display a similar swagger. In this country we are very good at building people up, even if they lack the substance to go with the style.

Therefore, England’s footballers and teams are feted as some of the best in the world yet singularly fail to deliver when it matters. Someone needs tell them that being amongst the highest paid in the world does not make them amongst the best players – it is a lesson, arguably, Welsh rugby is still having to learn.

Equally, our politicians need to realise that flattering media profiles and largely meaningless opinion polls don’t matter if you fail to deliver – a lesson that Mr Brown is now learning, David Cameron still doesn’t seem to realise and all those involved in the unseemly in-fighting masquerading as the Liberal Democrat leadership contest are blissfully unaware about.

South Africa swaggered in Cardiff on Saturday, but they also delivered. There were one or two occasions when I felt the swagger turned into arrogance, but maybe that is further proof that we don’t know how to deal with victory in this country – one man’s arrogance really is another’s self-assured swagger.

We don’t do glorious victories well enough in this country. When it does happen – England winning the RWC 4 years ago and the recent Ashes win over Australia – we go overboard with the hype and self-congratulations but mistakenly believe that we’ve done all the hard work.

Winning is incredibly hard. Continuing to win is even harder.

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One response »

  1. Nick Scott Donald says:

    I understand that the Duke of Wellington – a British general who was not unsuccessful at the job – used to actually dislike it when his troops cheered him following a victory in battle, as he was all too aware that they could easily jeer him, and viciously, the next day.
    That “We Shall Not Strut” mentality has been a British ideal in sport in days gone by, the perhaps rose-tinted days of the “gentleman sportsman”. It’s an ideal that I grew up believing in… “no conceit in victory, no despair in defeat” as Sir Matt Busby put it.
    This ideal can be alive and well – and something to strive for as much as a win – as long as we can properly remember the spirit of it… but it can just as easily become a myth in the face of (perhaps desperate) triumphalism.
    Football and other sports… “it’s only a game”? Yes and no.

    Humility is under-rated, I think.

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