The smallest possible unit of time we can actually use is known as Planck time. Named after physicist and proposer of the unit, Max Planck, it denotes the amount of time it takes light to travel the smallest distance possible in our conception before any smaller distance no longer makes physical sense; and is thus posited as the shortest unit of time that makes any sense whatsoever.
Planck died in 1947, but if he had lived a mere 70 more years and into the age of Twitter (not too clever not be dead, is he?), he would know that this measure of time that so vainly bears his own name – like physics’ answer to George Foreman – is not in fact the shortest unit of time. It is, in fact, the amount of time between the final whistle of any football match, and the commencement of widespread recriminations against the losing team.
England poured egg all over mine and John Nicholson’s over-enthusiastic faces last night by suffering a 3-0 semi-final defeat to the Netherlands, and before I had even left the stadium my Twitter timeline and direct messages were full of it. ‘They froze’. ‘The shit themselves’. Even the more innocent entreaties took that tone: ‘What went wrong?’
Part of that was down to the scoreline, which flattered the Netherlands in terms of chances created but certainly not on the balance of play, for they were wonderful; but it’s curious that that is our immediate and overwhelming response, even here.
Besides England, the Dutch were the tournament’s only other team with a 100% record before the game began. On form, they boast the best goalkeeper (Sari Van Veenendaal), best midfield playmaker (Jackie Groenen), and two best wingers and possibly best players in general (Shanice Van De Sanden and the utterly, utterly brilliant Lieke Martens). They have consistently been one of the two most scintillating and exciting teams in every single round of fixtures. Oh, and they are playing on home soil in front of hugely, roaringly enthusiastic crowds.
I am by no means absolving England of all error. Clearly, there were mistakes, mostly tactical, which I have spelt out in some detail here for those who are interested. I am saddened that I will now not get to watch England play in a major tournament final in person, possibly ever.
But I find it a bit odd and sad that the partisan observer’s instant reaction to a defeat by an orange-hot side (for that is the actual colour of supposedly-red-hot pokers) is to focus on the losing side and say ‘what did they do wrong?’, even though more often than not in football, the accurate answer is: ‘Barely anything more than the other team did’.
This is precisely the reasoning behind the famous assertion of one of catenaccio’s progenitors, the pre-war Italian player turned post-war manager Annibale Frossi, that “the perfect result to a football game is 0–0. That is because it is an expression of the balance between the attacks and defences out on the field”.
Is that really a philosophy we subscribe to – that any goal going in, however scored, is in itself proof of an imperfect, demanding that fingers be pointed and blame apportioned as the first step in its correction? Or would we rather subscribe to the philosophy of one of the game’s other great thinkers, Captain Jean-Luc Picard: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness – that is life.”
One of these outlooks forces endless recrimination and misery; the other liberates fans to enjoy the game for what it is. Which way do we want to go?