There's something to be said for the morale factor of sports.

In hard economic times, we're encouraged to see how a team can lift a town or city out of the doldrums with a winning or a championship season.

The New Orleans Saints were seen as being that kind of team – infusing a new spirit into a city still suffering from the ravages of Hurricane Katrina.

Likewise, when Detroit hosted the NCAA Men's Basketball Championships, it was seen as an event that gave a much-needed economic boost to that jobs-depleted city.

During the early stages of World War II, there was some debate among major league baseball owners and executives over whether the national pastime should be allowed to continue. President Franklin Roosevelt said baseball could provide a boost of morale for our troops in the field and the games were allowed to continue.

On a global scale, nothing does more for national pride than the World Cup. Last week, America experienced the agony of defeat at the hands of Ghana. It was heartbreaking to lose to the African nation, but we doubt that many Americans lost sleep over the outcome. The Americans did their best, managing to make it into the Sweet 16 (to borrow a label from the NCAA basketball tournament).

That brings us to the British, our most-trusted allies on the planet, who, according to European sources, have become total basket cases over the melt-down of their soccer team at the World Cup. The British tabloid media has done nothing to calm its readers, even pumping up the hysteria – and anger – by their scathing headlines with loaded words like "shame," "disgrace," and "surrender."

After last Saturday's 4-1 loss to rival Germany, which sent the British packing, the London Telegraph tore into the team with the backpage headline: "Hopeless, clueless, spineless."

The Daily Mirror ran the headline "Cape Clowns."

This guilt-ridden headline aimed at the players appeared in The Sun the morning after the loss to Germany: "You Let Your Country Down."

Stealing a line from a Winston Churchill speech about the gallant performance of the Royal Air Force in World War II, one writer from the The Sun applied it to his World Cup article, declaring: "Never in the field of World Cup conflict has so little been offered by so few to so many ..."

The Daily Mail used a quote from legendary English soccer star Roy Littlejohn to expand on the Churchill analogy: "If the Few had defended as badly as England, we'd all be speaking German now."

Given the history of two world wars, it's not hard to understand the rivalries that exist between Germany and England. But whatever passions a soccer team arouses cannot begin to compare with war.

British fans may be upset with what they see as lack of passion from their soccer team, but they should never equate a game with what occurred at Dunkirk in 1940, or throughout all the rest of Europe in 1939-45.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com