Soccer embarrassment, political turmoil after double Brexit

AP News
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Posted: Jun 28, 2016 12:39 PM
Soccer embarrassment, political turmoil after double Brexit

NICE, France (AP) — In a city that was once the playground of the British aristocracy, England's millionaire soccer players departed Tuesday looking as far from soccer nobility than at any time in the team's 144-year history.

The latest chastening blow to the nation's sporting prestige was magnified by the instigators of their downfall in Nice being Iceland, the smallest team to ever qualify for a major soccer tournament which had spent years admiring the supposedly superior English.

As the North Atlantic island nation prepared for a quarterfinal against France at its first-ever European Championship, the England team flew home to the latest in a long line of post mortems into why the country which invented soccer and hosts its wealthiest competition has not won a title since the 1966 World Cup.

They won't find much sympathy among supporters who spend fortunes following the pampered superstar footballers across the world. Especially not when the country they are returning to has been battered by political turmoil and economic turbulence following last week's referendum, when the majority of Britons voted to leave the European Union.

As flags of St. George were being packed up from beaches on Nice's Promenade des Anglais, a swanky boulevard named after the rich English who once bankrolled this swanky resort, supporters reflected on how soccer has only added to the sense of gloom for some at home.

"Brexit (British Exit) followed by this makes us look a nation of idiots," said 30-year-old Ned Pendleton from London, next to a five-a-side soccer pitch. "We are a laughing stock of Europe and the world. I don't feel very proud to be English unfortunately."

A professional gambler, Pendleton didn't predict being on the losing side in the referendum and Euro 2016.

"I'm pretty upset about Brexit. It's stupid," he said. "Then losing to Iceland embarrassingly is just all a bit of a shambles."

Both outcomes opened up a leadership vacuum in two of the most high-profile jobs in England.

The search began Tuesday for a new England coach after Roy Hodgson resigned from a job often branded the toughest in soccer coaching due to the weight of expectations that are not matched by constant underachievement.

"England seem brittle and we need to understand why," English Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn said Tuesday.

On the political front, the "leave" campaign's victory in the EU referendum has set in motion a chain of momentous events in London.

British Prime Minister David Cameron announced he will resign after a leadership contest in his governing Conservative Party. Infighting has also consumed the opposition Labour Party as leader Jeremy Corbyn lost a vote of no confidence of his its lawmakers in Parliament on Tuesday.

The political volatility has had economic repercussions. The British pound has fallen sharply against several currencies, including the euro, which suddenly made being in France for Euro 2016 more expensive for England fans. The country's stock market has taken one of its heftiest poundings in years, threatening people's wealth as well as undermining the economic outlook.

And to cap it all, two of the world's leading credit ratings agencies, Standard & Poor's and Fitch, have downgraded Britain's credit rating in light of the referendum result. Those cuts have the potential of making it more expensive for the government to borrow money, thereby accentuating the national debt.

"The football team deserves to be cut to junk status," quipped Howard Archer, chief European economist at IHS Global Insight.

England fans would probably agree, however split they are on the referendum result.

Before Monday's 2-1 loss to Iceland, a chant of "We're not in Europe anymore " could be heard among some fans on the French Riviera.

Britain could have to wait two years until the country officially leaves the EU, which it has been a member of since 1973. But the Brexit chant proved more immediately prophetic for Hodgson's team, which froze in the heat of Nice as tiny Iceland pulled off the biggest shock in the country's sporting history.

Jake Connolly and two friends had tickets for the round of 16 game but they were denied entry to the Nice stadium after their tickets flashed up as being stolen. The 21-year-old Birmingham resident said they had to spend the night with police before eventually being granted their freedom.

"A few fans told us we had a better night than them," Connolly said.

And the Aston Villa supporter said he bonded with the French police over anti-European sentiments.

"It might be hard now," he said, "but in the long-run it will be a lot better to be out of the EU."

Sipping an espresso in a nearby cafe, Nice resident Thierry Bouaniche was impressed the majority of Britons had voted out of the EU.

"Most people here are afraid to leave Europe because they don't know what would happen after that," the 57-year-old real estate worker said. "I think the English are courageous ... they will manage."

The French government rues the decision of British voters to leave the EU but few citizens will lament England's early departure from Euro 2016.

Hooliganism that seemed to have been eradicated from English soccer witnessed a revival at continental showpiece. Small pockets of fans were involved in clashes around games in Marseille and Lille and were teargassed by police. Behavior, though, improved with no disturbances reported in Nice.

"I am spoilt for choice about how to be embarrassed to be English," Liverpool-born doctor Terry Brown said in the searing sun on the Promenade des Anglais. "I don't know why everyone is surprised about the football because England are rubbish.

"But (Brexit) is reckless geopolitical vandalism by people who had no idea about what they were voting for. We just caused a lot of chaos for ourselves and the rest of the world. Eventually it will settle down. It will just be miserable while we are waiting for it to do so."

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