In football you can't play safe

The disappointment at England's exit from the World Cup was much more muted than might have been expected. Was this because it was exceeded by much louder disappointment at the team's performance? Football is supposed to be the beautiful game, but as a friend wisely remarked last week, it is only beautiful for part of the time, and that part reached minuscule proportions while England were playing.

The disappointment at England's exit from the World Cup was much more muted than might have been expected. Was this because it was exceeded by much louder disappointment at the team's performance?

Football is supposed to be the beautiful game, but as a friend wisely remarked last week, it is only beautiful for part of the time, and that part reached minuscule proportions while England were playing.

Much has been written about systems of play, but it seems to me that the root cause is fear. Not just England, but most of the countries with footballing reputations, were more afraid to lose than eager to win, and this is not just a footballing phenomenon. Safety has replaced adventure in our lives, and safety doesn't inspire anyone, because it doesn't work. Everyone dies in the end, with or without penalties.

It was undeniable that England used negative tactics, just as FIFA president Sepp Blatter and former England manager Sir Bobby Robson alleged. So did many other teams, like Argentina, whose talent would surely have triumphed if they had expressed it in an attacking, unfrightened way instead of putting all their artistry into falling over, like Portugal.

The only team who played fast, attacking football from the outset were Germany, who ironically are great admirers of the Premiership game and whose manager, Jurgen Klinsmann, is an Anglophile who won over vast numbers of Britons when he played for Spurs. In beating them, Italy showed that, to everyone's surprise, they could do it too.

Coincidentally, it is a former Spurs captain, Danny Blanchflower, who put everyone right on how football should be played. He said: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It's nothing of the kind. The game is about glory. It's about doing things in style, with a flourish - about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

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t BEING SURE IS NOT THE SAME AS BEING RIGHT

Transport chiefs seem to have less and less idea of what people actually want - or is it that they are so sure they're right that they don't really care?

Plans to cut speed limits in residential areas of Norwich to 20mph are supported by Lib Dems, Labour and Greens. Judith Lubbock, the LD transport spokeswoman, said (among other things): “This is what people want.”

Really? I don't know anyone who's actually been asked, and a poll on the EDP website not only came out 63% to 37% against, but attracted one of the highest ever responses.

Given that those in favour of such measures tend to be more vocal than those against, this is an amazing result and should give Ms Lubbock and her friends pause for thought. But it won't, of course, because they know they're right.

So, apparently, does Guy McGregor, the Suffolk portfolio holder for roads and transport, who reacted in an astonishing way to local MP Bob Blizzard's complaint that signs were directing drivers away from the new Lowestoft relief road.

I hold no brief for Mr Blizzard, but friends in Lowestoft tell me that the town has been in chaos, with times from Kessingland to north Lowestoft reaching an hour and a half. No surprise that the MP is “flabbergasted”, but what are we to make of Mr McGregor's view that such comments are “outrageous”?

Well, he's entitled to his opinion. What should shock Lowestoft people is the Suffolk transport supremo's thinly veiled threat that it “was not a good sign for work on future projects in Lowestoft”.

What can he mean? Do road improvements require blind and silent obedience to the fount of all spending? We should be told.

t THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT 'DOWN' IS 'UP'

A worried reader is concerned that Great Yarmouth, home of classic sand sculptures and the 2007 British Chess Championship, is being offered a “genuinely bottom-up approach” by the Government.

Three senior ministers have made the offer to the borough council, which oversees what the ministers describe as “one of a handful of the most deprived cities and towns in the UK”.

I am not sure the council would be altogether happy with this description, especially deputy chief executive Mark Barrow, who told me recently that he saw Great Yarmouth as an area “rich in culture and heritage contributing massively to the local economy”.

This is roughly how I feel about it. And if I were Mr Barrow, I would be more than a little upset at remote members of Government who not only wanted me and my colleagues to be innovative and ambitious (as if we weren't already) but also wanted us to bid for funding to “improve outcomes for priority groups”.

Bidding for funding is one of the most iniquitous and counter-productive devices used by Government. It demands a huge waste of time and resources that are already stretched, in order to produce and then inspect reams of paper containing jargon-heavy sentences designed to appeal to politically correct ministerial ears and having little relevance to what is going on. If you doubt this, you might as yourself what improving outcomes for priority groups actually means, in English.

All this is concerning enough. But what really worried the reader I mentioned was the phrase “genuinely bottom up”. How, she asked, would she be able to distinguish this from something that was falsely bottom-up?

Happily, I can help her. Anything described by a government minister as “genuinely bottom-up” is actually falsely bottom-up. That's what public consultation is all about.

t THERE'S STRANGE WEATHER ABOUT

Following a series of depressions lasting years in some areas, a ridge of common sense seems to have moved unexpectedly across Norfolk.

One of these weather-affected areas is education for special needs. At last someone has realised that while inclusion is a fine idea in theory - and sometimes in practice - often it doesn't work at all. Both the special needs pupil and those with ordinary needs have been prevented from getting a proper education.

Now there are clear signs that the mess will be sorted out, and those who need to be educated separately will be properly looked after.

Another area hit by the ridge of common sense is coastal defence. In a brave move, North Norfolk District Council has refused to sign up to “expert” advice that the sea should simply be allowed to swallow up at-risk communities in its area.

And in the troubled health zone, hit by frequent squalls, someone in a position of authority appears to have noticed that community hospitals are a very good thing.

Whether the ridge of common sense will remain in place is still uncertain. There are signs of weakening in the Acle-Yarmouth area, where it has been decided that the preservation of beetles is more important than human life, but this is put down to unusual climatic conditions. And stupidity, of course.