There’s seldom been a better time to be a football fan. Allow me to rephrase that. There’s seldom been a better time to be an English football fan. And who in recent memory can say they ever thought they’d be reading that? Let alone writing it. Certainly not me.
The only problem is that I’m not a football fan. Never have been. Never will be. Looking back to my formative years maybe I was more of a netball kind of guy. All attempts to get me interested in the beautiful game came to nothing. Which is what many thought would also happen to the high hopes that were put on the shoulders of the current England team. Yet although they started the tournament at odds of 14/1 (hardly an outside bet), now, dear Lord, they’re 4/1 to win the whole blooming shooting match.
At the outset, some ridiculously optimistic souls might have dared to dream, relishing a repeat of 1966. Deep down though they most likely knew it wasn’t meant to be. The performance of the national side, like the weather back home, should by all rights have been dull and dreary with bouts of severe depression, mainly from those sitting in their living rooms watching each torturous minute on the TV. Briefly touching on matters meteorological, what exactly has happened to the great British summer? Glance skywards. This isn’t how it was meant to be either.
With only four teams left in the competition and the final fast approaching, England’s players, in a display of remarkable good fortune, haven’t yet crashed out, leaving the pitch in disgrace, with the sound of booing ringing in their ears. Going completely against the natural order of things, they aren’t presently to be found - a la Rooney and any other number of players from untold tournaments gone by - licking their wounds round the pools of exotic foreign villas they’ve fled to in an attempt to escape from public criticism and a hostile press intent on castigating them over the ludicrous amount of money they’re paid.
This leaves me and others like me (I know I’m not alone, at least I don’t think I am) out on a limb. Literally everywhere I go, everyone, regardless of their age or sex, is talking about football. Conversations in cafes and restaurants that one used to be eager to eavesdrop on are no longer worth craning your neck to hear.
Would be Linekers are reciting statistics, discussing tactics and generally being tedious with their in-depth knowledge. But here’s the thing. The people they’re boring to death with their newly-found wisdom aren’t glazing over and tuning out. On the contrary, they’re equally rapt. Increasingly, I find myself living in a kind of soccer Stepford.
You only have to turn your back for a moment or go to the toilet and by the time you’ve rejoined the conversation it’s suddenly moved away from whether Theresa May will be able to get her latest Brexit proposal past Michel Barnier to whether Marcus Rashford will be able to get a right hand cross past Croatian defender Domagoj Vida. Not to mention England’s reliance on set pieces. After hearing the term ‘set pieces’ for the 165th time during the first ten minutes of the 5 Live commentary on the Sweden versus England quarter-final, I decided to Google it. Truth be told, I’m still pretty clueless, so I think I’ll simply go with my original assumption that it had something to do with crockery and I very much look forward to Gareth Southgate’s next half-time team talk on laying the perfect dinner table.
Before the World Cup began, I had no idea who any of the players were. If anyone had actually bothered to ask me, I wouldn’t have been able to name one member of the squad. And that includes hero of the moment, Harry Kane, who no one would be surprised to learn is destined to automatically be made next in line to the throne should England triumph on Sunday. As for the rest of the team, they’ll naturally all immediately be knighted.
Of course, had England been forced to take a different route through the competition and played teams who were better opponents, things could have been very different. We’d have perhaps managed to just about make it through the knockout stages and that would have been it. The whole country could then have plunged back into to a state of disappointed normality and I wouldn’t be feeling quite so unpatriotic and guilty about not really giving a stuff about whether they win football’s greatest prize or, once more, walk away empty handed.
Oh well, whatever the result, things will pretty soon return to the way they were. Who knows? Perhaps we can finally get back to our losing ways of old.