The tag line of my very first book was to ’embrace the unexpected’ and I know, I’m tooting my own horn here, especially when it comes to my work, because pretty much nobody else will.
It seems every other review I get these days is just a snarky half autistic commentary nit picking the finer details of what are in my opinion good enough stories, but after all that is all they are stories, and this summer has produced one of the finest stories right out of the unexpected. I’m talking about the FIFA world cup and England.
I’m making my return to blogging after quite a long stretch of radio silence, that’s what writers do, they recede to the words, I’m busy with stuff that’s all but even I had to stop and take note of the past month. I want this entry to be more of a love letter than just a remorseful sulk towards yet another knock out of the three lions and I have good reason. We all have good reason for this to be positive.
Nobody including me even thought England would have a chance of reaching the last 4 of a 32 team competition. I just looked forward to seeing a game of international football every night for a few weeks, there’s just a more interesting vibe about the international game, that combined with a tournament makes it must watch-anything-can-happen-television. And then England played their first game…
As I tuned in via the BBC I player to see England take on Tunisia I really didn’t know how to feel or what to expect. Truth is, the last proper game of England football I followed was against Iceland, an embarrassing and probable all time low point, but even before then my nerve endings were singed and near dead (memories of 2014, 2010 and even 2006 were responsible for this). As I rallied behind the many unknown faces to me wearing the three lions kit I then got that usual frustrated feeling I always used to get, I guess that just comes with watching England, then Tunisia equalized via a penalty and it pretty much looked like a carbon copy of every damn England tournament game, ever.
England are always the architects of our own demise or some controversy always denied us, and then something unusually special happened. Harry Kane scored a winning goal in injury time. A small glimmer of hope began to form in many of our imaginations, could we actually do this? Was lady luck finally siding with England?
Fast forward to a Wednesday night in July and the whole country were united in watching our football team for the first time since I could really remember. The journey there became intertwined with a nation falling back into love with international football, this time so well documented in the internet age. The memes were rife and the world couldn’t look away or ignore the fact that football was coming home. It didnt rain in all the time England were in the world cup.
Then you have to rewind, this thing may read like a Tarantino scene shuffler but you have to look back in history, for me my earliest memory of England was that grey kit, Alan Shearer, Gazza and the old Wembley Stadium. I was seven years old when my dad moved the sofa closer to our tv to watch my first taste of England football glory.
I sat there 22 years ago watching the man who is now our manager miss a penalty against Germany in Euro 96′. That moment hurt all the way up until this year because now I find myself with nothing but respect for the man toting the waistcoat as he gracefully and calmly marched himself into football legend. Gareth Southgate’s efforts wouldn’t be enough to go past an experienced hard working Croatia team, but there are so many positives this time. He redeemed himself from 96’s clutches and that folks is the greatest part of this story and so now when I looked up to that England team as they faced a well turned out group of fans after all their efforts, I felt nothing but hope.
We didn’t lose in controversy, there were no cheats or red cards, there was no real negativity, we weren’t robbed, even in defeat England had finally earned the faith of their following again. The black heart of disappointment finally began to beat again even if we fell on our sword, we fought all we could.
England reached a fine turning point this summer, they won a penalty shoot out, and rightfully deserved, Columbia were a threat and also bad sports. That moment is when I fully believed this whole deal had changed and that is what England fans must take away from a truly wonderful effort. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing, and I honestly predicted England to bow out via the semi finals, something we hadn’t reached in nearly thirty years mind!
For the first time in a generation the England manager represents nothing less than hope and respect. The future of this young now big match experienced team is bright, yes it hurts, it will for a while, but then there is a belief which will shine through. We’ve got our national team back, and if I could travel back to 1996 and tell my seven year old self that we would get to the semi finals of the 2018 world cup, just after we bowed out to Germany, I know I would take that. Don’t be angry, be sad for a while but know that England’s best is yet to come! I’ve followed football all my life and even the club I religiously followed (QPR), had their day a number of times, trust me, one day it will come home for England, but for now we will have to settle for restored belief, pride, faith and more importantly hope.
It was nice to have that belief, even if it was temporary it united England for just a few weeks and I am sure it will again. Thank you England.