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San Marino – The permanent underdogs who deserve respect

Fans of the English national football team were confidently expecting their team to win by at least four goals on Friday 12th October. For a pleasant change, it wasn’t because of wild optimism, but because their team was clearly superior to the opposition, in this case San Marino. Pundits compared the San Marino football squad to a pub team, and supporters weren’t much better at hiding their own amusement.

Very few people actually gave the San Marino team any heartfelt credit – their compliments were the patronising ‘they’re not that bad, really’ backhanded variety. Nobody, in my opinion, has given them the credit I feel they warrant for actually turning up.

For these footballers, a 5-0 defeat is one of the more common results, and a draw is regarded in some quarters as some kind of moral victory. For these players to keep turning up, they must be either barmy, or in love with the sport on some deep, fundamental level.

Comparing the San Marino approach to internationals, which seems to be ‘we might lose, but we’ll do it with pride’, with the English national team’s approach, which has been criticized regularly for its apparent lack of passion, we should take heart from the smaller country’s attitude. We should applaud them for their willingness to get up again when they hit the canvas, and salute their eagerness to learn and improve. If the English team were in the position of San Marino, losing almost every match, Roy Hodgson would be out of a job, nobody would particularly want to replace him, and I doubt that many of the players in the current squad would fancy turning up to be thrashed every game they play. The team spirit in San Marino’s dressing room must be phenomenal.

San Marino’s past record before their match against England was:

Played 113 Won 1 Drawn 5 Lost 107 Goals Scored 19 Goals Conceded 467 Goal Difference -448.

It seems to me that they seem to be the footballing equivalent of  Bruce Strauss, the boxer who was essentially a punching bag for anyone and everyone ( in the world. Still, they’ve always got that glorious 1-0 win against Liechtenstein in April 2004 to look back on. They won courtesy of an Andy Selva goal, and Selva is still their all-time leading goal scorer with 8 goals.*

These statistics can obviously make the mickey-taking somewhat easier, but the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, said that “it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts”. Perhaps you disagree with this. Then, sadly, you and I do not see eye to eye. There will be no greater thrill for a professional (or, in the case of the majority of these Sanmarinese players, amateur) footballer than to represent his country and take on the best in the world. Perhaps England fit into that category, perhaps not.

Taking on those world-class players is what you dream of as a little child, kicking a ball around on the grass, and it’s a credit to the footballers who represented San Marino against England on Friday night that they have not lost sight of that dream. Although there are those who are more talented, richer, and more famous, there can surely be few players more dedicated to the sport. There are teams all around the world that can learn a lesson in grit and courage from a small team such as San Marino, or other teams that supporters of the ‘bigger nations’ scoff at, such as Liechtenstein or Andorra.

The final score of the match between England and San Marino at Wembley on Friday 12th October 2012 was England 5-0 San Marino.

Rooney 35′ (pen), 69′ Welbeck 38′, 71′ Oxlade-Chamberlain 77′

Referee: Gediminas Mazeika

Attendance: 85,654

Man of the Match: Danny Welbeck**


*As Molesworth would say – ‘all fakts correkt for a change’!

** I waited for the final whistle, just to be absolutely sure I wasn’t going to put anything wrong down.

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