National tabloids don't sing when we're winning
A sports-averse Mrs Gabriel recently joined me in front of the telly, excitedly cheering on a stirring Team GB performance at the European Athletics Championships. Over the same weekend, England's cricketers gave Pakistan the kind of metaphorical spanking that David Cameron hamfistedly attempted earlier that week.
Encouragingly, The Sun devoted its front page on a sporting story on the following Monday. Did it go for athletics? Cricket? Both?
Neither. It chose football, in a manner of speaking. 'Wayne Rowdy' was the declamatory print headline - rather than celebrate actual national sporting success, The Sun went for a non-story about an out-of-season footballer having a night out.
Our country's media wants us to rule the sporting world. So why harp on about someone who 'let us down' at the World Cup, when the nation actually has something worth shouting about?
When it comes to sport, UK tabloids are impossible to please. In fact, they're the inky equivalent of a petulant five-year old; wired on Robinsons Fruit Shoots, tantrumming their tiny feet off in The Entertainer to finagle a weary parent into buying a Dora The Explorer lifesize action dolly then, on leaving the shop, wailing "I didn't WANT Dora The Explorer. I WANT A DISNEY PRINCESS."
English newspapers demand nothing less than victory from most of the nation's sportsmen and women. Play for England's cricket and football teams, and you risk underperformance at your peril - high-profile failure provides a humiliating fast-track to the back pages. Two words: 'Robert'. 'Green'.
However, even when sports 'heroes' achieve, our media isn't always satisfied; England qualified with admirable efficiency for the World Cup, but this counted for nothing once it appeared there maybe one or two (er, possibly 15) teams that were better than Capello's men in South Africa. Last weekend, Andy Murray beat all-time greats Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to clinch a big tennis tournament. However, coverage of Andy Murray's Rogers Cup win paled into insignificance next to the start of the all-consuming Premier League season.
Often, in cranium-poundingly insane circumstances, our journalists will even intentionally seek to scupper future success.
Take the Mail on Sunday's Lord Triesman revelation. I accept calling it a 'revelation' is pushing it, considering more people know the name of the professor in Bagpuss than Triesman, but let's run with it (the Mail on Sunday certainly did).
Triesman, a former Labour minister, led the bid to host the 2018 World Cup in England. Well, he did until falling victim to a 'kiss and tell' sting: Melissa Jacobs, Triesman's former mistress, recorded a supposedly private conversation between the two where he hinted at the corrupt behaviour of other footballing nations.
The Mail on Sunday, unequivocal moral heartbeat of the nation, did the honourable thing: coughed up for Jacobs' recording, splashed the story all over the paper, broadcast the offending audio tape online and bayed for Triesman's head on a stick. Falling just short of decapitation, the Mail on Sunday did lay claim to another scalp: Triesman's resignation.
Triesman's comments may have been ill-judged, but not as ill-judged as the decision to publish the story. In essence, a national newspaper chose to jeopardise a campaign that was in the best interests of England's football fans - those same fans who like to read about World Cups (especially those held on our doorstep) in national newspapers.
This, to me, made The Mail on Sunday's actions seem as sensible a pursuit as adult self-soiling. Even crisp-chasing Gary Lineker thought it was a duff move, and did a bit of resigning himself (from his position as Daily Mail columnist).
So tabloids prefer bad news over good? No surprises there. What puzzles me is that the newspaper industry is fighting for survival, and consequently the maximisation of sales for print media must be of paramount concern. So why does the industry not use sport more positively in order to drive revenue?
After all, newspaper sales increase with the anticipation of sporting success: this year The Sun, Daily Mail, The Mirror and Daily Express saw month-by-month sales increases while England remained in the World Cup.
Arguably, actual sporting successes also result in sales increase: these figures are by no means conclusive, but sales for four of the five leading tabloids increased in August 2008 (the month of the Beijing Olympics, scene of triumph for Adlington, Ennis et al); sales fell for four of those tabloids once the Olympics ended.
Many assume FOOTBALL SELLS, hence plonking the nondescript 'Wayne Rowdy' story on a front page; I'll also add a layer of cynicism by suggesting Rupert Murdoch would prefer to see newspapers fronted by Premier League footy stars - stars of his subscription-only Sky Sports channels - in any context, rather than those pesky athletes performing wonders on terrestrial TV.
It's also true that some sports will never justify a tabloid's front pages and thus sell newspapers (for example, Jordan's occasional efforts to give polo a populist push are unlikely to pay off).
But newspapers often forget one simple fact: football fans are by and large sports fans too, and would rather read strong general sports coverage than feeble stories masquerading as football revelation, founded purely on inconsequential, irrelevant gossip-mongering.
Therefore, surely it's worth newspaper editors thinking outside the penalty box more often than they do - when our nation does well in international sport, why not give teams and individuals the acclaim they deserve?