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Britons swallow national pride

July 05, 2003 12:49 IST
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Their biggest superstar has decamped to Spain. One of their legendary soccer clubs has been bought by a Russian billionaire. And their annual Wimbledon hope was wiped out in the quarter final.

You might think this was a week that would leave British sports fans depressed. But in the land of stiff upper lips -- known for inventing sports that other people excel at -- fans were looking at the bright side.

"I'd like to put a more positive spin. I think it's a great week," said Steve Waring, sports editor at Britain's biggest newspaper, The Sun.

"The fact is that an Englishman has conquered Spain," he said of the much ballyhooed exile of David Beckham, the global fashion icon who played for Manchester United and has now taken his show to Madrid.

"We've got an Englishman who's proved to be one of the biggest names in Real Madrid history, certainly the fastest selling shirt in Real Madrid history."

Saying goodbye to Beckham has not been easy for Manchester United fans.

In the weeks before he left, the Manchester Evening News ran tearful stories about Kirsty Howard -- an angel-faced seven-year-old heart patient whose case Beckham championed for charity -- pleading with him to stay.

But by the time of his glitzy unveiling ceremony in Madrid, plenty of United fans were already fed up, both with Becks and his wife Victoria, formerly Posh of the Spice Girls pop group.

"Can we PLEASE forget about Posh Boy????" one fan posted at the newspaper's online website. "His unveiling yesterday was rubbish. You'd

think Real cured world hunger or something. Thank God that circus is gone."

Wrote another: "I'd give anything to be at Old Trafford when United beat Beckham's new team next year in the Champions League. So long Becks."


As for news that the company which owns 98-year-old soccer club Chelsea had been bought by 36-year-old Russian oil baron Roman Abramovich, any snub to the national pride has been drowned out by giddy fans hoping the new mega-roubles will buy new mega-stars.

The Russian will assume the group's debt estimated by Deloitte & Touche Sport at around 80 million pounds ($133 million), giving Chelsea big financial muscle in the player transfer market.

Of course, the 10th annual Wimbledon meltdown of Tim Henman -- perhaps his last chance to become the first British men's champion since 1936 -- allowed sportswriters an opportunity for a good, old fashioned wallowing-in-sorrow.

"The rain, this day, had come too late to save Tim Henman, but the loyal troops did not desert him," the Daily Mail wrote of his fans, who annually turn out to watch the match on a TV at a grassy spot at Wimbledon informally called "Henman Hill".

"They had come too far together, shared too much joy and anguish to abandon him now."

But even that cloud had a silver lining, said Waring.

"It might finally lay the ghost to rest that he can ever win Wimbledon, so we can turn our attention to someone else for a change, some younger players who might have more success."

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