Sport

It’s Coming Home

I recant. I take it all back. I bow my head in shame. Well, sort of. I did at least provide a few caveats in my pessimistic prediction of how England might fare in the World Cup. It has transpired that all things are indeed possible. We have definitely had more than our fare share of luck. And we are still dreaming. Maybe, just maybe, football is coming home after all. Maybe. Or has my new found optimism cursed us? We football fans can be a supersticious lot…

Basically, the 2018 England football team is the best thing since sliced bread. That is to say, whilst completely devoid of inspiration, a bit dull and with obvious limitations, it is functional and performs a single purpose very well. You might suggest that with a little heat applied it can perform two functions, but let’s not go there. One does not wish this England team to be toast.

I have watched every game that England have played in my lifetime live on the telly. There’s a reasonably small section of the population that can say that. By virtue of England failing to qualify for the tournament in 1974 and 1978, I was nine years old – and old enough to watch a match – when England took to the pitch in Espana 82. We set about the task at hand in fine style, mauling a brilliant French team 3-1. I fondly remember Bryan Robson’s opening goal – the quickest ever scored at a World Cup at the time.

I remember with less fondness the desperate finale in our match against the hosts. Needing to beat Spain to progress to the semi-final, we threw the proverbial kitchen sink at them. Alas, lady luck threw a spanner in the works and our dreams went down the drain. It has been that way ever since.

Never were our hopes higher, and the despair greater, than in Italia 1990. England battled their way to the semi-final where we fought the traditional enemy, Germany*. Ninety minutes couldn’t separate the teams. A further thirty minutes failed to break the deadlock.  We were five nail biting, tension filled penalty kicks away from the final. Alas, history shows that we were five penalty kicks away from a tearful exit. Something that became a rather repetitive nightmare over the decades that followed. I can only liken the empty feeling caused by Chris Waddle’s skied shot as like a bereavement.

World Cup semi finals, and the chance to go through to the final, don’t come along very often. It’s taken 28 long, long, long years. But finally the day has arrived. The Three Lions dined tonight on an unconventional diet of Swedes. But the meaty ties are yet to come. The next match could see us play Russia?** Isn’t that tie a mouth-watering prospect, given our current relations? Better mouth-watering than foaming, I guess.

Another victory will see us play either France or Belgium, and frankly either of them would be heavy favourites to break our English hearts. One just wonders which would hurt more. Defeat to the old enemy from Paris? Or being done over by Brussels? Because make no mistake, anything but total glory from here on in will lead to the Brexit that really hurts.

The photo. The England kit for Spain in 1982 was like most things 80s – loud, brash, much derided and back in fashion twenty to thirty years later. I always liked the strip. For me, it was the original England kit. I found cotton retro editions in Sainsburys today, but couldn’t make my mind up which to buy. The white home shirt or the red away one? They weren’t expensive so I solved the dilemma by buying one of each. If England do make the final, Mrs P and I plan to hotshoe it up to London to watch the game on a big screen. And thanks to my indecisiveness, we will both have something to wear.

But that leads me full circle. Should I wear the white home shirt, and Mrs P the red? Or I the red and she the white? Well, I can put this decision off till another day. Either way, wish us luck.

* Germany may be our traditional enemy, but we are not theirs. The Germans give that honour to the Italians. Who in turn consider Brazil to be the great foe. It’s a simple system – who is one place above you on the World Cup wins chart?

** The more likely opponent is Croatia. They are substantially better than Russia. They are also a little bit better than us, and the bookies would favour them in the semi.

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