Stiff upper lips, chaps – the Yanks are taking over Twickenham

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Describing, in the round, the privately educated Englishman of his generation, John Le Carré makes the observation that ‘he can have a Force 12 nervous breakdown while he stands next to you in the bus queue and you may be his best friend but you’ll never be the wiser.’ Le Carré doesn’t, one gathers, mean it as a compliment and nor does he intend it to be an unequivocal criticism, but whatever one takes from it one can hardly deny the wry humour – nor, if you’ve met a specimen, the accuracy.

One suspects, however, that the upper lip would begin to soften and even twitch if such a man were to discover that the price that would be paid for getting into bed with America all those decades ago to fight global communism and win the Cold War would be… having them play American football at Twickenham.

The news is hardly writ large in the Financial Times, Oldie or Spectator, but it’s true nonetheless. There was a game last Sunday, if one can credit it. There’s another – this coming Sunday between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns, eff-why-aye – before one can look forward to England’s autumn internationals against Argentina (11th November), Australia (18th November) and Samoa (25th November).

It’s not quite the same as letting the French play boules on the centre square at Lord’s, but the very idea is likely to give one’s Guv’nor a bit of a turn: all that excess padding; the fact that each team is made up of 45 players; the idea of a 60 minute game last for an average of three hours and twelve minutes though the ball is in play for only eleven minutes. And so on.

If, however, as a member of a less resilient but more cosmopolitan, emotionally available generation, one is able to look past all this and realise there’s actually a lot to be said for the US interpretation of ‘football’. The action (such as it is) is undeniably dramatic, the opening ceremony as entertaining as it is absurd, and then there’s the real highlight: large groups of Americans enjoying themselves – carefree, incomparably friendly and under no self-imposed pressure to reign in their joy and disappointment. How refreshing.

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