It’s Still Coming Home
The English culture has long been regarded as one in which people generally keep to themselves – not as a result of a lack of love or kindness towards one another, but simply because it is who we are – a nation of individuals who are naturally reserved and respectful of others’ boundaries. But once a year, from the dawn of spring to the end of September, something miraculous occurs.
Due to what can only be described as a chemical reaction to warm sunshine, we become a completely different animal. All of a sudden, we’re smiling and greeting one another on the street.
The mood completely changes! It really is the most peculiar thing. And one which I will never fully understand.
But this summer our seasonal desire to be more openly friendly with one another rose to a whole new level. Rather similar to the manner in which joggers greet one another as a sign of respect for dedication and commitment to the cause, all of a sudden, an entire nation enthralled by the very unexpected heroics of twenty-three young Englishmen in Russia, literally threw away all shackles of inhibition. Exchanges of nods, smiles and even hand-shakes between complete strangers became the norm during the past three /four weeks, as men and women of all ages began to believe that maybe, just maybe, it might finally be coming home.
In truth, deep down none of us truly believed we would win the world cup, but we genuinely felt a first world cup final in over 50 years was well within the wonderful realm of possibilities. And yes, maybe our underestimating Croatia was indeed our downfall, but that’s a topic for another day.
Today, I simply want to pay tribute to the twenty-three young men who left these divided and unhappy shores some six weeks ago as no-hopers; destined to not even get past the group stage.
But boy o boy did they prove us wrong!!
From that first twenty minutes against Tunisia to the magnificent first half against Croatia, they have done nothing but make us exceedingly proud to be British. And let’s be honest, as a result of Brexit and sinister debacles such as the Windrush scandal, which one can only describe as Machiavellian in nature, ours has been a nation divided for several months. However, the faint but distinct hope of football’s home-coming not only united a nation but restored pride and joy.
I hadn’t planned to write an article this week, but upon seeing the picture of a forlorn looking Kyle Walker in Thursday’s Evening Standard, it dawned on me that our boys had given their all during the past four weeks, not for the sake of their own personal fame and glory, but for the millions of fans back home. Hence, to pen an article in their honour is the least I can do.
Yes, the route to the semis was most definitely fortuitous, but you’ve still got to overcome what’s in front of you.
So this is my salute to our heroes who travelled to Russia with no airs and graces, no overblown egos, no arrogance, and no attention seeking WAGS. This was a very different type of England football team- one dedicated to representing their nation – not for themselves but for the ordinary millions in blighty. To these men I say a huge and wholehearted “thank you”.
Thank you for your commitment
Thank you for your love of the game
Thank you for restoring our pride and joy
Thank you for giving us a renewed hope that goes way beyond this tournament
Thank you for uniting our nation
And thank you Gareth Southgate, for showing us the power of humility, unity, and dedication
My sports favourites, including the GOAT – Roger Federer, Arsenal, Usain Bolt, the England rugby team, the England cricket team, and of-course the England football team, often have a tendency to make me rather superstitious – driving me close to insanity with absurd rituals that range from sitting on the right-hand side of the sofa when Arsenal is playing an away game, to never watching the first set of a Federer match until he gets to the final, to crossing my left leg over my right (leg) throughout the match if the England Rugby team is playing at home. But this summer, thanks to our beloved footballers, my superstitions attained new levels of absurdity.
On the evening before England’s round of sixteen game, my neighbour invited me to join him and his friends at a sports bar in Wembley to watch the match. In truth I really didn’t want to go, as I was well aware of his fondness for alcohol infused nights on the town; and these days I’m well on my way to drunken stupor after a mere couple of drinks. Add to that the fact that I had a very important meeting the next morning and I’m sure you agree that having a few drinks with my neighbour and his friends whilst watching the game was not only dangerous but positively futile.
But you know how it is – someone asks you to do something you really don’t feel like doing, and because you’ve been caught unawares without an excuse in sight, the words, ‘err.. yea, okay’ stumble out of your mouth. To cut a long story short, not only did I go to that sports bar with my neighbour and his friends but as a result of my penchant for sports related superstitions, I proceeded to go there for both England’s quarter-final and semi-final games – without my neighbour, who actually travelled to Thailand for a five-week holiday on the day of the quarter final.
Why did I keep going to that bar?
Because it was good luck. Not only did I keep going, but I took the same route there on each occasion. In-fact so insistent was I on always taking the same hallowed route that just two hours before the semi-final, despite a sudden, yet strong urge to go to the high street in order to get a big mac from McDonalds, I abandoned the idea as it meant my having to take a different train and route to Wembley Park. And I haven’t even told you about my ritual at the bar!! Let’s just say that for each England game I ritually drank just two bottles of Peroni and sat on a particular type of chair at a specific spot opposite the main bar – every time! And bearing in mind the fact that I was always sitting with exactly the same people in that section, it’s fair to say I wasn’t the only one with superstitious foibles.
My only regret is that I was so upset and depressed towards the end of the semi-final that I didn’t say goodbye to my new friends, as a result of walking off in a huff about five minutes before the end of the game. Yes, I know I should have cheered our boys right to the end, but as I surveyed the people around me during those final few minutes, two things became abundantly clear.
1. We weren’t going to score another goal.
2. In a vain attempt to drown their sorrows, everyone would continue drinking long into the night.
As neither reality appealed to me in the slightest, I decided it best to leave five minutes before the final whistle.
However, not only has this young team given us so much hope, pride, and joy, but if we can somehow find an especially creative talent to boss our midfield then I genuinely believe we can achieve great things over the next four years.
In my view, Russia 2018 has been the best world cup of all time – the goals, the comebacks, the shocks, and the fall of so many big nations, to name just a few of the reasons why the world came to a shuddering halt for four weeks. So much excitement that one can’t help but wonder whether Putin has somehow managed hack the tournament.
England’s wonderful adventure may not have taken the turn we so desperately wanted it to take at this particular juncture, but the real story is that the journey has just begun.
In 2010, a young German team reached the semi-finals of the world cup. They didn’t quite possess the experience or nous to get to the final and win the whole tournament, but we all knew they would conquer the world over the coming years. And indeed, they did – winning the 2014 world cup.
Can this young England team do likewise?
Only time will tell.
But even if they don’t, we can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that the final of the 2020 European Championships will be played at the magnificent Wembley Stadium. So, one way or another, football will definitely be home by 2020.