Several times in recent days I’ve heard media debates about “British values”, with no-one really able to come up with a ready definition of what these may be. Recent World Cup coverage has featured some really good examples. The pivotal incident in Germany’s 4-0 defeat of Portugal came when Thomas Muller collapsed as if he’d been pole-axed when Pepe waved an arm in his face. In the pundits’ discussion after the match the former Arsenal and France defender, Patrick Vieira, dismissed criticism of Muller’s gamesmanship saying “Until the rules change, that’s just the way it is – it’s the way the game is played”. This prompted a strong reaction from Lee Dixon (his former team-mate at Arsenal) who simply, but trenchantly, said “No, it doesn’t have to be like that”. I’d say he was expressing a British value right there.
A week earlier, Gus Poyet, (Uruguayan former Chelsea player and now manager of Sunderland) used his experience in this country to say why he thought England would be at a significant disadvantage against Uruguay in the upcoming group game. He said that Uruguayans’ culture meant that they would go to any lengths to win, “including cheating if they can get away with it” and that they would see nothing wrong with that approach. To his credit, Poyet did say that when back in Uruguay he’d tried to influence the game’s youth infrastructure to be less like that, but – he said – without success. Some may say that if the opposition cheats then so should we, but I hope there’s still a healthy majority that recognise the “British value” of not being like that. We didn’t like losing to Maradona’s infamous “hand of God” goal, but we would like still less to be winning by such a means.