England might not go all the way in the European Championships but victory is already assured in the diplomatic stakes.
The squad of players based in Krakow have become the greatest sporting ambassadors we have ever sent abroad. And I hope they get the credit for it when they return.
But they might not for one very specific reason. They are footballers.
The establishment works in a very funny way in this country. If you are a cricketer or a rugby player you become “high-spirited” in your celebrations after a victory.
But if you’re a footballer you become a lout.
But there couldn’t be anything less loutish than our boys in Poland and the Ukraine.
They’ve become the adopted sons of their home base town, Krakow, where they can be seen strolling around the streets, responding to fans best wishes and ingratiating themselves with the locals.
What a great advert for this country. And I hope we all salute them for their behaviour when they get back.
There is nothing so public as a collection of sporting heroes on foreign soil to portray an image of the nation that they have come from.
The behaviour of the England Rugby team in New Zealand last year still rankles with me because I don’t think our country ever received a proper apology for the disgraceful antics that went on throughout the tournament.
Just imagine the uproar if England footballers went out on the lash in the MIDDLE of trying to win the European Championships.
Let’s remind ourselves that our rugby authorities defended the idea that it was acceptable to go out and celebrate a victory on a game by game basis. Even if that had been a dinner in a restaurant with two glasses of wine it would have been against the principles of sporting endeavour and athleticism. But it wasn’t.
Any professional player who consumes large amounts of alcohol a few days before their next match is sabotaging their own body from recovery after the previous game.
And for some of the rugby players it was a full-blown all-night bender.
Many tried to laugh this off as the way that rugby players behave. Well they do if they’re in the club-house at Old Walconians on a Saturday afternoon in November but it’s ridiculous that it is tolerated at the highest level.
The problem with rugby is that they have demanded all the benefits of total professionalism in terms of status and rewards but they still insist they can conduct themselves as they did when they were an all amateur game, which, remember, is less than 20 years ago.
But when they misbehave they do not come under the same sort of microscope as footballers because they are part of the establishment.
So much part of the establishment of course that one of the prime culprits in New Zealand, Mike Tindall, is married to the Queen’s grand-daughter, Zara Phillips. To my mind Tindall has never really apologised to the country for the shame of that tour.
Can you imagine the uproar if Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart had decided to celebrate victory over Ukraine with a pub-crawl through Krakow. It’s simply unthinkable that footballers would behave like that these days. It would be treachery to England, to the fans, to the management and to the game.
In recent years cricket has also managed to turn a blind eye to the sort of behaviour which would have branded footballers as drunken louts.
I’m not against having a few sherbets when you’ve achieved something marvellous like winning the ashes. But it was thumbs-up and “Good old Freddie” when Andrew Flintoff spent 24 hours in a virtual alcoholic daze, even carrying his little baby around with him and falling in and out of Downing Street.
A few years later Freddie had to be rescued at sea when he fell off a pedalo in St. Lucia. Again, you simply wouldn’t see footballers behaving like that – and in fact they rarely have.
Of course there have been shocking examples of footballers misbehaving in their own time but rarely when they are representing their country abroad. There is an ethos within the FA that teaches young men how to conduct themselves when they are wearing a blazer with a three lions badge on it.
And hasn’t it been brilliant to see the way the players have been operating in Poland.
When interviewed they seem completely relaxed, lively, chatty and proud to be representing their country. They go out and mingle with the local people, hand out goody-bags and spend hours posing for pictures and signing autographs.
To the rest of the world they ARE the face of modern England. They’re brilliant ambassadors for our country and I hope we recognise that when they get back.
I’m very proud of them.