Wiedmer: Will 'Waistcoat Wednesday' be kind to England?

Wiedmer: Will 'Waistcoat Wednesday' be kind to England?

July 11th, 2018 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

If only because it's given the world the Beatles, Winston Churchill, the television classic "Downton Abbey" and, however unwillingly, the greatest nation on earth, I'm pulling for England to top Croatia in their World Cup soccer semifinal today in Moscow.

Not sure how much of it I'll actually watch. Might depend on how quickly those Wimbledon men's quarterfinals come to a close.

But the World Cup is supposed to be the biggest sporting event on the planet, and if the Brits had just treated a lot of our ancestors a little bit nicer, that might be our team out there instead of Jolly Ol' England's that has been running around Russia playing some pretty impressive kickball of late.

Instead, the Revolutionary War ended any chance of that. We, at least most of us, stand at rapt attention for "The Star-Spangled Banner" instead of "God Save the Queen." We pig out on burgers and fries instead of fish and chips. For those who consume such things, we lean toward bourbon while they embrace Scotch. We have coffee while they prefer tea.

And while we have our football, complete with all manner of padding and concussion protocol, they have futbol, or soccer, complete with red cards and penalty kicks and the kind of nationalism that we have witnessed one time in our history when it comes to a sporting event, that being our U.S. hockey team's Miracle on Ice in 1980.

Even that — incredible though it was in instantly creating one of those "Where were you when we beat the USSR?" moments you fondly remember for the rest of your life — really was more about politics than sports.

Not the World Cup, though. It's pretty much an NCAA men's basketball tournament for the rest of the world. They probably even fill out brackets and have World Cup office pools. At least they should.

Such a spectacle. Every game, at least within the stadium hosting it, looks like the Southeastern Conference football title game on steroids. Whether or not you believe it's a beautiful game, it is indeed a beautiful sight, as Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium surely will be at 2 EDT this afternoon.

But for England — forced to keep its stiff upper lip over the past 28 years that have come and gone without a World Cup semifinal match — this is a time to go bloody bonkers for its entire team, especially its vest-wearing coach, Gareth Southgate, though such attire is known as a "waistcoat" in the United Kingdom.

Think how much the Alabama football fan embraces houndstooth and you have some idea of what the 47-year-old Southgate — a former England player — is doing for the waistcoat on Carnaby Street and elsewhere.

"You see them (coaches) at the side of the pitch usually sweating with a suit on or wearing a shirt with the sleeves rolled up," British tailor Mark Powell told CNN Sport earlier this week. "But with the waistcoat and the tie it still makes (Southgate) look very elegant. It gives him an identity of having power and respect."

It apparently also has given a huge boost to the waistcoat industry within the UK. According to the same CNN Sport article, British retailer Marks & Spencer — the official suit provider for the national team — has reported a 35 percent increase in waistcoat sales since the World Cup began. Beyond that, fashion search platform Lyst has reported that waistcoat searches have gone up 41 percent since the start of England's run, which means somebody has been searching for a waistcoat every 12 minutes of late.

The Brits are so excited over Southgate's attire they've dubbed today "Waistcoat Wednesday."

But will it be enough to overcome Croatia, which doesn't seem to do anything easily yet keeps finding ways to win?

Though it's true that the last two times England and Croatia have met have been easy wins for the Brits — 4-1 and 5-1 — this is the World Cup. Anything can and has happened in this event, even if we've apparently been disinclined to watch here in the States, what with television ratings down 38 percent from 2014 World Cup numbers.

Yet how different this Waistcoat Wednesday might have been but for July 4, 1776, and the glorious, passionate fight for independence that followed in our new world. Were it not for the vision and wisdom of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the like, we might have all headed enthusiastically to our neighborhood pubs this afternoon dressed in our waistcoats, belting out 'God Save the Queen" as we hoisted pints of Guinness and cheered midfielders Jesse Lingard, Raheem Sterling and Dele Allias.

Alas, England being stodgy ol' England, seemingly always, to some degree, a prisoner of its proud, proper past, even Southgate's buttoning of his waistcoat has caused some to wince.

It seems that once upon a time, Edward the VII, having consumed a bit too much dessert, unbuttoned the bottom button on his waistcoat.

"The rest of the people around the table felt obliged to do the same," the tailor Powell explained to CNN Sport. "It became a set sartorial etiquette which has carried on to this day."

So if you're donning a waistcoat today, please, in the name of all that is English, in deference to that extra crumpet you consumed, please remember to unbutton that bottom button.

Because had history been a wee bit different, that could be our team facing Croatia this afternoon instead of what's left of the British Empire. And had that been the case, wouldn't you want to observe proper sartorial etiquette?

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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