Updated: Jun 21, 2021
I must apologise, I’m sorry to jinx it for everyone, but I’ll be watching England v Sweden in Saturday’s World Cup Quarter Final.
England lead West Germany 2-0 in a World Cup Quarter Final in Leon with 20 minutes remaining. Despite the TV pictures being worse than those beamed back from the Moon the previous year, even I, an unworldly 10-year-old, can see that this team really is better than that of 1966 and as it will be our turn to beat Brazil in the final, life will always be like this. England are the eternal World Champions and I am English, therefore life will be a doddle.
Three West German goals later, I have done the equivalent of five years growing up in a matter of minutes. Life will always be like this? It turns out I was correct in my prescience, after all.
The Murphy’s Law of football matches (unless you happen to be Polish in which case it was the Yhprum's law of football matches).
Outclassed in qualifying by the Italians, England didn’t make it to Argentina. Sorry, but once I’d seen that thrilling Argentinian side it didn’t seem to matter so much. I loved the crowds, the tickertape, the madness, the noise, Ardiles, Kempes, Luque et al so much that I didn’t care a jot that their final match in the group stages was fixed.
The outbreak of Fan Zones (ugh, surely an invention of The Man), giant TV’s in pubs, and the offering of so many bandwagon-jumping gewgaws and gimcracks make my Esso World Cup 1970 Coin Collection (incomplete) look like the Hope Diamond. I reflect on the 1982 tournament - a tiny TV, high on a shelf behind the bar of the New Inn, watched intermittently with a bunch of pals drowning in the ennui of watching England slink away in a succession of nil-nils - and wonder whether cheap, supermarket bunting would have helped.
“You know we call that goal mano di Dio?”
A Neapolitan taxi-driver brought this up, as I suspect he does with every Englishman.
“You know what we call it?” I replied. “Handball. Red card for Maradona. Free kick to England from which we race away and score the first of 4 goals.”
See Pete Davies’ excellent book All Played Out (after you’ve read the rest of this, of course.
We stuffed it up in qualifying again. I supported Italy, staying up all night and sometimes turning up for work with my system battered by things other than tea and cornflakes. Ah, Italy. Who lost out on penalties. (Do we see the emergence of a pattern?)
The day before my birthday and one of my gifts was a bottle of Scotch whisky (which I no longer drink, and you'll see why). The tension became ramped up to such an unbearable level that I broke the seal on the bottle and took a little (a lot) in search of relief.
When Gareth Southgate’s penalty was saved, I got to my feet (somehow) and announced that I was taking the (rather surprised) dog for a walk. It was when Brer Dog and I got to the park and I sat down rather heavily on the cricket square that I came to the conclusion that the reader must have reached on their own by now, “Jeez, I’m pissed.”
Of course, it’s the hope that kills you.
2002 Japan and South Korea
Did the captain turn up well short of match fitness because he’d been poncing about on holiday rather than preparing properly, yet got away with it because the manager was rather in awe of him? I heard a rumour, but I don’t know. What I do know is that England were done for when they put in a timid performance against the Brazilian shirt, rather than the Brazilian team.
2006 and Beyond
I’m sketchy on the details here, as by this time I was watching less and less football, but whenever I did catch a little World Cup Fever, a couple of hours later England’s insipid performances and/or wayward penalties ensured they were homeward bound. It was all starting to feel like my fault.
I predicted 2 dull draws, a must-win third game against Belgium, and an early exit. So clearly I’m as good a pundit as I am a good luck charm. I ‘watched’ the Colombia game on Twitter while I had an eye on the T20 cricket international, and a book. England finally won a penalty shoot-out. Coincidence?
A Conclusion (of sorts)
I confess I am the shameless bandwagon jumper who ditched his first team (Reading – Steve De’ath and all) as soon as me and my mates were old enough to get the train into London to go to Spurs. Ten years old was the going rate then, I recall. Which seems as far off as sending us up chimneys.
Now we are here. Sworn to spend the World Cup 2018 in the garden trying to improve my lamentable guitar playing and catching up on the classic literature which I’ve missed out on since school, and now reneging on that, like so much else, in favour of the match on Saturday.
What can I say? I’m sorry.