Last Sunday, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter finished tied third in the Open golf championship. There have been years when that would havesparked that strange mixture of pride in a plucky loser and irritation at a near miss in which Britain specialised for so long, but in the event few British sport fans gave it a second thought.
After all, on the same day, Chris Froome won the Tour de France - after 98 years without success, Britain has suddenly produced winners of the last two races - and England beat Australia in the cricket by a record margin to take a 2-0 lead in the five-match Ashes series.
Not long ago, that would have been an achievement for the ages, a day of success to be remembered for eternity, but winning has - weirdly - started to become routine for Britain. Andy Murray won Wimbledon this year to end Britain's 77-year wait for a men's singles champion in the event, a year after he had won the US Open to end a 76-year wait for success in any tennis grand slam.
Justin Rose won the US Open golf this year, the first English winner in a major since 1996, but continuing the recent British success in majors of Rory McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell. The British Lions won their rugby test series 2-1 against Australia - a first series win since 1997 - while at last year's Olympics Great Britain finished third in the medals tale, behind only the far more populous China and USA.
This is a golden age of British sport.
Except, of course, for one sport, the sport that more people play than any other, the sport that more people watch than any other, the sport that obsesses the nation: football.
Although England could draw some positives from the friendly draw away to Brazil in June, they face a struggle this autumn to qualify for the World Cup, while the summer was one of gloom, with the Under-21 side failing to win a single game in the European Championship and the Under-20 side failing to win agame in the World Cup. Why, then, does a nation that has suddenly found itself winning continuing to lose at the thing it most cares about?
The answer, as it is to so many things, is money. In 1994, the National Lottery started funding sport. The impact on Olympic sports, in particular, has been astonishing. At the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Great Britain won just one gold medal, at Sydney in 2000 it won 11, in Athens in 2004 it won 9, in Beijing in 2008 it won 19 and on home soil last year, it won 29. In part, that's to do with better coaching, and in part with better equipment.
The most noticeable leaps have come in cycling, sailing and rowing: if you have the resources to develop a better boat or bike, then clearly you have an advantage. In part, though, it's also been about targeting the funding, ruthlessly isolating the competitors most likely to win medals and assisting them at the expense of earnest triers lower down the field. It may be debatable how desirable that is, but there can be no doubting the success of the policy.
Individual sportsmen like Murray and the golfers have often gone overseas for the best coaching. Murray, for instance, moved toBarcelona at the age of 15 because he felt he had outgrown the infrastructure of the Lawn tennis Association. Many of the golfers are now resident in the US, or have taken advantage of college scholarships there.
It's the upsurge in the cricket team's fortunes that perhaps reveals most about why football struggles. In 1999, England were the lowest ranked Test nation in the world. The following year, central contracts were introduced for elite players, meaning they answered to the national side rather than their county teams. With counties incentivised to produce England players, there was an unquestionable focus on the national team that bore rapid dividends. Money has also helped, as England have been able to afford coaching staff from all over the world: the head coach, Andy Flower, is Zimbabwean; the bowling coach, David Saker, is Australian; and the spin coach, Mushtaq Ahmed, is Pakistani.
Given English football is the richest in the world, though, why does wealth not translate to success for the national team? The answer lies in who controls the money: in no other sport is there such a dislocation between the money and the interests of the national side. At club level, despite a recent blip, English sides are hugely successful: in the last nine years, there have been eight English finalists in the Champions League.
Even last year, when no English sides reached the quarter-final of the competition, Chelsea won the Europa League. All four of the English qualifiers had individual reasons for their early exits - tough draws, controversial refereeing, transition, a manager with an abject European record - but even if that did indicate a decline, the 70% increase in domestic television revenues this season is likely to rectify that.
The English league is rich, and the result is an international league that happens to be played in England. The revamp of the academy system and the investment in St George's Park, designed to rectify the extraordinary statistic that Spain has ten times more qualified coaches than England, may slowly see an upturn in the standards of English players.
Effectively, though, the basic issue remains: the resources are in the hands of the clubs, and the clubs act in their own interests, not necessarily in the interests of the national team.