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Golden age tainted by the Golden Generation.

Byline: Dave Kidd

ON Thursday night, the lights will go out on the most glorious decade in British sporting history.

Ten years which brought glory at the 2003 Rugby World Cup, an epic victory in the greatest cricket contest of all time, the 2005 Ashes, and a record haul of 19 gold medals at the 2008 Olympics.

It has been a true golden age, from Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson in Sydney's Telstra Stadium to Freddie Flintoff and Michael Vaughan at The Oval, to Chris Hoy and Becky Adlington in Beijing.

Throw in Joe Calzaghe and Lennox Lewis - probably the most successful British boxers of all time - the emergence of Andy Murray and Lewis Hamilton, more genuinely great Olympic feats from Steve Redgrave and Kelly Holmes and there has never been a time quite like the Noughties.

Manchester's hugely successful 2002 Commonwealth Games proved we still have the capacity to stage a great international event - despite the doommongering about London 2012.

So why hasn't it really felt like such a vintage era? Probably because none of these triumphs has featured football, the allpowerful God of English sport.

The England team have staggered from one disaster to another. In the first major tournament of the decade, Euro 2000, England slunk home after the group stages under the inadequate Kevin Keegan and in the last one, Euro 2008, they did not even qualify, thanks to the incompetent Steve McClaren.

At the start of the 21st century, the idea of a foreign manager of England would have seemed almost unthinkable. Now an English manager of England is a highly improbable prospect any time soon.

Unconvinced The 'Golden Generation' of English football were never anything of the sort. One glorious 5-1 victory in Munich, proved a false dawn, and some of us remain unconvinced that a couple of crushing victories over Croatia on the way to next year's finals will prove any different for Wayne Rooney & Co.

The last World Cup year, 2006, was so bad for Britain that Zara Phillips won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Let's just hope we are toasting Croxteth beefcake rather than royal crumpet this time next year.

England's footballers must have envied the historic victories and opentop bus glamour of our cricketers and rugby players, who have enjoyed a fraction of David Beckham's fame and John Terry's wealth but huge multiples of their glory.

Our cricketers began the decade as the worst Test team in the world but finish it in possession of the Ashes, having won the most relentlessly gripping sporting drama of all time against Australia four years earlier.

England's rugby team have also done their fair share of Aussie-bashing and, in stark contrast to their round-balled counter parts, have actually risen to the game's grandest occasion - winning the Webb Ellis Trophy Down Under in 2003 and reaching the final again, when they simply had no right to, four years later.

Indeed, only our golfers have rivalled football for under-achievement. Not a single one of the 40 Majors staged in the decade was won by a Brit.

Still, whatever the failings of the national football team, surely the Noughties were the years when the English domestic game took over the world? Apart from the fact that none of the top seven players in last month's European Footballer of the Year poll ply their trade in the Premier League ...

And that only two of the decade's 10 Champions League finals were won by English clubs (and both of those after penalty shoot-outs). Compare it with the late '70s and early '80s, when English clubs won the European Cup in seven years out of eight, and the golden age of English club football argument simply doesn't stack up - unless you are a marketing man or a financier (well, a financier who is unconcerned by vast levels of debt).

This has certainly been a decade in which the game changed beyond recognition - and when romanticism in football officially died.

In the first week of the 21st century, the FA Cup holders, Manchester United, were declining to defend the famous old trophy. Under pressure from the FA and the government, they instead competed in something called the FIFA World Club Championship, so as to boost England's bid to host the 2006 World Cup finals. Not a bid to be remembered.

The FA Cup never recovered from such a body blow. Middle-ranking Premier League clubs now field reserve sides, and perhaps the greatest date in the British sporting calendar, the FA Cup Final, is fast descending towards piddling irrelevance.

It seemed the age-old traditions of the Cup were simply not Y2K compliant, as they used to say in the days of the Millennium Bug.

It's also worth remembering that 10 years ago, English football's fiercest underdogs, Wimbledon, were still a Premier League club.

The body-snatching of the Dons by Milton Keynes and the Football League's cowardly rubber-stamping of the move gave a chilling sneak preview of the kind of franchise system so many of the game's rulers would welcome.

Reckless Wimbledon's former owner Sam Hammam was the man most blamed for the club's demise and in many ways he was a pre-cursor to this reckless ownership by foreign finance men with no feeling for their clubs.

Fans of Liverpool, West Ham, Portsmouth, Newcastle (as a Southerner in Geordieland, Mike Ashley is every bit a foreigner) will curse the day when their clubs changed hands. Perhaps those Manchester United supporters who opposed the debt-laden Glazer takeover will be proved right, too.

During the Noughties football club ownership has become a Wild West.

It is doubtful whether anyone at Premier League or Football League HQ is a fan of The Clash but if they listened to (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais, they'd flinch at these lines: "If Adolf Hitler flew in today They'd send a limousine anyway."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Dec 27, 2009
Words:977
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