That is at football, by the way, not just the nation's game but its sackcloth and ashes, its cat-o'-nine-tails, its hemlock on the bedside table.
In the many words already written about the Euro 2012 qualifier few in England have been spared to acknowledge the likelihood of a Welsh win because that is not in the accepted Anglo-centric order of things. The Welsh do rugby. And singing. They probably still go to chapel. They should not count in football. They have not been to a World Cup since 1958. However promising their squad may be, their role in this scenario is as Official Banana Skin, not opponents with an equal right to dream of victory.
When Fabio Capello said at the time the draw was made, "Wales are one of the best teams now, although they are very young", he was doing no more than paying a premium on his insurance policy against the possibility of losing. He had learned the English game well.
So it will not do for Wales to beat England at football. Just as the Australians were not supposed to in a friendly at Upton Park eight years ago but did, 3-1. When it was pointed out to the Socceroos coach, Frank Farina, that maybe his team's fantastic achievement was diminished because England completely changed their squad at half-time, he observed that, in that case, they had beaten two England teams on the same night.
When Marc Lièvremont raked English nerves before the Six Nations match at Twickenham last month by repeating the tired but largely true mantra that nobody much cared for the English, he set himself up for a proper whipping afterwards in defeat. But the more enjoyable spectacle was watching the froth gather at the mouths of the offended; it was a childish wind-up, childishly received.
And what to make of the impertinent Irish? They have now beaten England at cricket and rugby in the space of three weeks, seismic events, apparently, in the opinion of those commentators hypnotised by their own rhetoric. Condescension has rarely reached such heights.
Certainly Kevin O'Brien's purple-haired hundred in Bengaluru could be rated an heroic curiosity. It inspired a victory that spread passing euphoria in parts the game has rarely reached but, given England's resources and the levels they have played at consistently for several years, they ought never to have lost that match, even over the minefield distance of 50 overs.
Praise for the winners came loaded with a pat on the head. When Sky called it "one of the biggest shocks in the history of the sport" it was in flagellation of England as much as celebration of Ireland's glorious day.
The Irish cricketers (and they were almost entirely Irish) then reminded everyone of their pedigree when they chased down 300-plus for the second time to beat the Netherlands who, of course, are not supposed to be any good at cricket either.
The rugby in Dublin on Saturday, however, was a different matter altogether. Optimists deluded by the prospect of an England grand slam and Ireland's faltering form during the championship were willing Martin Johnson to fulfil their expectations of his growing aura. It was a neat narrative, from World Cup-winning captain to rock-jawed coach ready eight years later to cross the world and lift the trophy a second time. The slam would be the perfect warm-up. The Irish had better not get in the way.
They did more than that. They walked all over England. In 80 minutes they destroyed the story. There would be no ideal platform now, just disappointment and reduced expectations. Reality kicked in and New Zealand, South Africa and Australia were put back on their plinths.
This game of building hopes then dashing them is not, of course, peculiarly English. It has just been going on here for much longer. But the French play it. Ask the Italians who beat them at rugby the previous weekend. Even the Americans are at it.
Talking to a radio station in Baltimore yesterday about the state of boxing, I was asked when I reckoned they would ever see another great American heavyweight. My inclination was to say, "Who cares?"
Instead I pointed out that nobody has a divine right to be the greatest. Not even the USA. And that ought to be hugely comforting to the rest of us – wherever we are from.
From the gutter to the stars: boxing includes everyone
Boxing continues to swing wildly between the stars and the gutter. Before Vitali Klitschko and Odlanier Solís contested the Ukrainian's WBC world heavyweight title in Cologne on Saturday night, the impeccably coiffed and tanned Michael Buffer addressed the 19,000 enthusiasts solemnly: "Ladies and gentlemen, we would like to extend our sympathies, along with our thoughts and prayers, to the nation of Japan in this time of tragedy." A minute's silence followed.
Half an hour later Solís was in hospital, his right knee wrecked after he collided with Dr Ironfist's clipping right in the third and concluding minute of the contest. The Cuban's manager Ahmet Oner raged: "[Solís] was a drunken piece of shit but [now] he is a very good sports guy. He was unable to continue, and that hurts."
When Bernd Bönte, Klitschko's manager, cast doubt on Solís's performance, Oner screamed back: "This man is shit! All you do is provoke. Shut your fucking mouth!"
In August, 2009, Oner, was shot in the thigh in a Hamburg street. "I am OK," he said. "I have been attacked before." In February, 2010, a Hamburg district court handed him a 22-month suspended sentence for extortion and related offences. Never let it be said that boxing is not a socially inclusive enterprise.
Slow death of bullfighting
Aficionados say bullfighting, boxing's distant cousin, is the art of dying. Abolitionists reckon it is a dying art.
Easter marks the start of another season of blood-letting across Spain but toro bravos will have just one more summer to endure in Barcelona's last bullring, the historic Plaça de Braus Monumental, after lobbying by animal rights activists and Catalan separatists.
However, in a new book called (with charming lack of ambiguity) How To Watch A Bullfight, British author Tristan Wood contends it is still thriving: there were 145 big bullfights in Spain in 1950, he says, and 960 a year until the economic downturn. Wood describes it as a "moving and cathartic" experience. Some people will remain unconvinced. The world is lately shocked again by death and suffering a good deal more profound than that willingly risked in rings of battle in the name of culture.
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