David Preece: Why Phil Neville's 'nonsense' England claim is wrong

For a country who have found winning trophies at international level more than just a tad difficult to come by, our view towards what constitutes being “winners” seems a bit off.

Monday, 15th July 2019, 10:18 am
Phil Neville claimed England's bronze medal match was 'nonsense'

What is a “winner” anyway? To say “Someone who wins trophies.” is too simplistic a statement for me. Yes, the statement in its absolute sense is correct but as Christopher Lambert once famously stated, “There can be only one.”. So what happens if you aren’t that one?

If you’re a “winner” you’d just pack your stuff and head home, refusing to play like a spoilt brat who takes his ball home in a huff when they lose. Because that’s what’s winners do, isn’t it? It’s winning or nothing for them. Why go through the rigmarole of a nothing game to see who is the second best loser? I’ll tell you why. Because there is pride to be taken in doing your best to finish in the best placing possible.

Every team capable of getting to a final of a tournament has the aim to.

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Talking to people from around the world, I wonder if this disdain for bronze medals in football is just a British thing. Described as a nonsense by England’s manager at the Women’s World Cup, Phil Neville, I wonder if that kind of attitude towards these play-off games is healthy for a side yet to win their first World Cup. In doing so he not only displayed the bitter sportsmanship he has so heavily criticised his opponents for but he also belittled the achievements of some his players at the last world cup in 2014. As Carly Telford said “Try telling the players who won bronze in Canada it’s a nonsense.”.

This “win or nothing attitude” means that all England will come away from this tournament with is disappointment, when in reality they were narrowly beaten by the side who deserved to win.

And if England are to be winners, then they don’t have to look much further than their semi-final victors to see what true winners are in every sense of the word. Call it confidence. Call it belief. Call it arrogance if you want but the US women had it in spades. And where do you think that comes from? It comes from wanting to win every game no matter what. You only have to look at the joy they took in demolishing Thailand to understand their mentality.

Many thought they should have taken their foot off the pedal in the interest of “good sportsmanship” as the goals racked up but that was never a choice they were going to make. It had to be full speed ahead.

I can only imagine a scenario where on losing the semi-final they would try and rescue some pride by trying to win the bronze medal by a cricket score to make up for their disappointment. They are relentless.

It is possible to be disappointed that you didn’t achieve what you set out to do and put that disappointment to good use and finish the tournament on a high. For some of these players it will be their only chance to win anything at a World Cup and a bronze medal would surely be treasured over the disappointment of getting nothing for fourth place.

I get the impression that many of the people who say say disparaging things about third place play-offs have never got that close to winning anything. It’s that old attitude of thinking you might as well have been knocked out early that to lose a semi-final.

What this “nonsense” of a game has done has meant despite their pre-tournament optimism, all the pontificating and high-horsery and the manager bringing his wealth of experience, shining his floodlight exposure to the women’s game, the team have taken a step backwards from 3rd to 4th.

Here in Sweden, women’s football has a long and proud heritage. That’s why I’ve seen town centres go quiet when their women’s games are on TV. I’ve seen my own team’s game moved back an hour so everyone can watch their team play. I’ve watched on as the Swedish players sang along to ABBA with their medals around their necks. I’ve watch their star midfielder Kosovare Asllani talk of how proud she was to bring the bronze medal back home to her family and make the country proud of the team. Of which they are very proud.

The worst thing to come out of this though is when I used to think of the word nonsense, it always reminded me of Phil Collins appearing in an old Chris Morris sketch on Brass Eye about sex offenders. Now I think of Phil Neville. Now that is nonsense.