This wasn’t the blog I was planning to write. ‘TWO blogs in mind?’, I hear you cry. Well, it’s like buses with me. You wait forever and three come along at once. And then an entire year passes by with absolutely nuffink. Or perhaps you were hoping I’d go away again. Who knows? Either way, this blog post seemed a little more pressing.
Last Wednesday night was a special night. The England football team made it through to the final of Euro 2020 (why are we calling it 2020 by the way, when it’s 2021? And why is nobody else questioning this anomaly but me?). Anyway, I digress. Yes, I said ‘the final’. The first major football championship final featuring England since 1966. That’s a long bloody time ago – before even I was born. And I’m mad-old. But one can’t help but having this funny feeling – something’s coming, something good…
It isn’t fun being an England fan. I was brought up in a football-loving East London household; we must have thoroughly enjoyed torturing ourselves as we were also Tottenham Hotspur fans too. My dad instilled that love-hate relationship with football in us. I used to get pretty annoyed at the way he shouted at the TV screen, yelling at the players, and telling them what to do from his armchair – like he knew anything. But it turned out he did – I found out after his death he had a trial with Wolverhampton Wanderers when he was young (you’d think he’d tell us something like that), but it came to nothing through injury. Which I guess explains his love-hate relationship with football. So I guess he did know a thing or two after all. So I’ve experienced those momentous and heartrending games that promised so much and delivered so little, I’ve forced myself to sit through matches that were literally crushing my spirit because I believed that if I turned the TV off, England would lose, and it would be all my fault for giving up on them.
I’ve sat through so many games that made me want to stop watching football altogether. I was watching in my childhood bedroom when Maradona’s handball put us out of the 1986 World Cup quarters. I was watching when a tearful Gazza got a second yellow card in 1990 in the World Cup semis, knowing he wouldn’t play in the final – not that it ever came to that. I was watching in the 1996 Euro semis when Gareth Southgate missed that penalty. I’ve roared with joy as we scored that unexpected goal, and I’ve cried my eyes out at the penalty shoot-outs which NEVER went our way (I hate penalties – they prove nothing and there has to be another way). I’ve told myself I would never watch England play football again – for years I didn’t, because the stress (over a mere game) just wasn’t worth it. The song lyrics from ‘Three Lions’ are so right – ‘thirty years of hurt’, except ‘Three Lions’ was released in 1996, so now it’s ‘fifty-five years of hurt’. And it really does hurt – so why do we do it to ourselves?
There are people out there who think that football is a game for mouth-breathers. I’ve heard it called ‘Kev-Ball’ (how rude) in the past, and some of our ‘lowest common denominator’ England fans make me embarrassed to be English. Some say it’s an achingly boring game. And sometimes they have a point. Football can be frustratingly dull on a bad day. Over the years, a lot of people have assured me that rugby is a far better game. Which, coming from East London, I thought was utter boll***s, until I lived in New Zealand for a year or so and had to become very ofay with rugby and very quickly, or there would be nothing to talk about with my Kiwi co-workers. NZ rugby players were household names. Rugby is a great game. Like many of you, I watched England’s Johnny Wilkinson’s drop-goal in extra time to win the rugby World Cup in 2003. It was epic and euphoric, I was jumping around the room. England needed that win. But d’you know what? I can’t help but think we need this win even more.
For sixteen months the entire world has been devastated by COVID, we have all been restricted from every and any kind of enjoyment in our lives because of this awful virus. All work – no play. NO play. And every nation needs something good to happen – finally, something good. But, as a hard-done-by England fan, I think we need it more. Because we just do (that’s a very well-constructed and debated argument, which needs no further justification, I think). With every football championship I start out in the same vein; I try to stay reserved and aloof because I know it always ends up the same way for us, knocked out in the quarters or the semis. Good, but just never good enough. I’ve been burned one too many times. But I was sucked in again the moment we knocked out Germany. And I’m going to go out on a limb here – a huge limb. I’m telling you; I just have a feeling about this. This is the final – we haven’t reached a final in over half a century. It’s being played at Wembley – on home turf. The final is falling on my first-born’s twenty-first birthday (I once won quite a lot of money at a casino using her birthday numbers – if she isn’t my lucky talisman, I don’t know who is [even if she does hate football and is rather annoyed that the match is going to overshadow her birthday – but y’know, she’ll live]). On paper, Italy is the better team, our win over Denmark was arguably lucky and a bit ugly – that penalty was rather generous – but sometimes them’s the breaks in football (again, lest we forget ‘The Hand of God’ – we had to suck that up). England were the better team on Wednesday night, they made all the plays, and I’ll take that win. Can you imagine if Denmark had gone through on penalties after their performance? Oftentimes, it isn’t even about the better team. It’s about whose day it is, who wants it more. The stars are aligning. This will probably never happen again in our lifetimes, but the beautiful game won by the nation that created it…? Can’t you just feel it – taste it, even? Do you see how much is at stake here? And have you any idea what the odds are at Ladbrook’s, by any chance?
Maybe on Sunday night I’m going to feel very foolish (once again) as we slope home with our tails between our legs; the losers standing small. And believe me, I’m the MOST pessimistic person in the entire world (well, after my dad) – you should have heard me watching the game on my phone in bed and shouting at the ITV football pundits for tempting fate – raving about us being in the final before the final whistle had even blown! F***ing IDIOTS! My dad would have been irate! Still, I’ll say it again, there’s just this feeling. Maybe it is coming home (yes, that phrase is becoming a tad hackneyed). So I’ll see you Sunday night, because if we lose and you weren’t there watching it between your fingers to the bitter (very, very bitter) end, it’ll be all your fault.
PS: If you’re not English, my apologies, but we’d love to have your support as a neutral (if not Italian)?
PPS: Apologies for the repeated usage of the words ‘us’ and ‘we‘, I have never played for England in my life.
PPPS: Can we have a Bank Holiday on Monday next week either way? Because we’ll need a day off even MORE if we lose.
PPPPS: I can always delete this blog if the worst happens, so don’t worry, I can save face if need be.