England Football team agony

our goalie had one slightly butterfingered moment of horror

there is no reason in principle why we should not reach the semi-finals and perhaps even the final

I came to the surface yesterday morning, like most people, with a vague sense that something had not gone entirely to plan. Groggily, I reviewed the events of the previous day. I tried to put my finger on that leaden feeling in my heart.

What could it be? I had been to see Trooping the Colour at the Queen’s Birthday Parade and, as everyone said at a very jolly Army lunch afterwards, it seemed to sum up so much of what was good about this country. Here were soldiers just seven weeks back from Afghanistan, performing manoeuvres with the precision of rhythmic gymnasts, boots sparkling like magnesium, busbies rippling like dominoes as they turned their heads this way and that.

If you took it all together – the happy crowds, the Red Arrows streaking overhead, the beaming Queen, the balmy weather, the London parks generally surging and sprouting with the joy of mid-June – you came away with a sense that God, or someone very like Him, was in His heaven and that all was more or less tickety-boo.

It was only when I got up and shambled downstairs that I started to remember how the day had ended, and the weltschmerz came down like a fine damp mist. There on the floor was the box that had contained the 50-item England supporters’ housepack, and I have to say there was something a bit woebegone about it all.

There were the remnants of the barbecue, the discarded streamers and plastic England hats and vuvuzelas. There were the beer bottles drained in that first triumphant libation when Gerrard scored, and there on the mat was about 10kg of Sunday papers to remind us of what happened next.

When I went out on my bike I passed the shuttered pubs and bars, and on every pavement I could see the traces of football parties that had ended in gloom: the cigarette butts of England supporters frantically trying to calm their nerves, the pints left half-drunk in plastic beakers when it became clear there wouldn’t be much to celebrate on Saturday night.

What did you feel when the poor English goalie let that one through? What was the sensation that filled your brain, just after you leapt from the sofa with an incredulous oath or a noise like a cat being strangled or a man with an ingrown toenail being trod on by his neighbour on the Tube? What was the thought that followed the yelp?

I’ll tell you what that feeling was. It was a sense of desperate inevitability. It was the feeling that this is our destiny as England supporters. We get our hopes up, we big ourselves up, we flood our endocrine system with the serotonin of patriotic optimism, we bicycle-pump our poor little hearts until they can take no more – and then pfft, we run right over the thumbtack of fate.

No sooner did that ball lollop gently over the England goal-line than the whole nation was wheezily engulfed by a feeling that somehow it always goes this way; and that, for whatever reason – selling off the school playing-fields, too many foreign players in the Premier League, inadequate preparation for penalties – we lack the killer instinct of other footballing nations.

That, pretty much, was the theme of the Sunday paper football commentariat. We’d muffed it, we’d fluffed it, we’d contrived no more than a draw with a nation whose main sport is not even Association Football, they told me as I ate a morose bowl of muesli. We’d been shown up by a bunch of yee-haw amateurs, not one of whom would be picked to play for one of the top English clubs, they sniffed.

Heskey had missed a sitter, Rooney was off-form, and as for poor Green, the goalie, he couldn’t catch a cold. Lower and lower sank my spirits, and a black despair enfolded me until I looked again at the match reports, and I compared them to the actual match I had watched. And I found myself starting to object. Hang on a mo, I thought.

OK, so our goalie had one slightly butterfingered moment of horror. But that ball was travelling faster than you think, and it was bouncing in a disconcerting way. Many years ago, I was briefly asked to play in goal in a school team, in the hope that I would stop accidentally fouling people (whenever I mounted what I believed was a perfectly fair challenge, the other players kept falling over and crying), and I can tell you that these things are much harder than they look.

Robert Green recovered to make a fine save and, when you review the whole game in your mind, you can see there were long passages when England were totally brilliant, passing the ball among themselves with an efficiency that was positively German, setting up one scoring opportunity after another.

Rooney’s long shot at goal shows how dangerous he is, and to my untutored eye Glen Johnson, Ledley King and Steven Gerrard were among the best of an amazingly gifted bunch. And let’s face it, we didn’t lose to America, as we did in 1950. We drew, and we had much the better of the game. We may have got off to a slow start in this World Cup, but then England wouldn’t be England if they didn’t put their fans through agony, and if we have lured the others into a false sense of security, then so much the better. We can still do it, folks.

We can still come out top of this group, and, according to my son, who knows about these things, there is no reason in principle why we should not reach the semi-finals and perhaps even the final. And if we can reach the final, why then, anything can happen.

As I write these words I can feel my emotions re-hitching themselves to the wagon of the England football team. I can feel my chest starting to tighten again with excitement at the thought of redemption in the Algeria match, and as the great optimistic bicycle-pump fastens on the valve of my heart I can feel the inflation begin all over again. Truly, my friends, despair is not the problem. I can live with the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.

32 thoughts on “England Football team agony”

  1. Likewise there is no reason in principle why a space alien shouldn’t be elected Mayor of London, or perhaps that’s already happened? Based on their opening performance England are not semi-final potential, particularly when compared to Germany or Holland, based on their opening games performance.

    Sorry but England are not as good as the myth our ill-informed press convey and subsequently taken as gospel by large swathes of moronic and thick football fans.

  2. “What did you feel when the poor English goalie let that one through?”

    My first thought was “Oh my god, that poor man. The papers are going to destroy him.”

  3. I was so wrapped up in the ins and outs of the BP crisis and Boris all over the American air waves, that I was genuinely delighted we drew at first, because it seemed the ideal political solution. I was soon informed of my error by red blooded males, hahaha, who told me I was out of my mind.

    On the bright side, Italy drew with the USA and went on to win the World Cup. Like dmnyc, I felt genuine sympathy for our poor keeper, and he made a terrific save in the second half.

    I don’t want to knock our team, because they need us to get behind them in the early stages, but how I longed for a bit more fire and passion in our team! They seemed to pfaff around quite a bit, but never mind, maybe they are getting a feel for the tournament and will let loose in the later stages.

    The USA are actually not a bad team – they are rated 14th in the world, and we are 8th. Nobody expected them to be pushovers.

  4. Speaking of supporting England:

    British firm was rejected for Boris Johnson’s bike hire scheme: Britain’s oldest cycle manufacturer was rejected after bidding to provide bikes for the Mayor’s hire scheme.

    What an awful decision, that cost 20 potentially British jobs.

  5. dfgh – presumably their bid wasn’t competitive enough. Then again, if he’d given it them anyway and the additional cost was passed along on rental fees, you’d complain about his not going to with the more cost effective option. I’ll give you this much – no matter the name you use, your Boris-related view remain the same. 🙂

    angelneptunestar – I don’t think Boris’s face knows how to do despair. It would just look wrong. 🙂

  6. There! The title holders, Italy, have just achieved a 1-1 draw with Paraguay, and Paraguay are ranked 31 in the world. So we did better than the title holders……

  7. Has anyone else noticed that this World Cup is very, very
    boring?
    Football was much better when I was younger, like everything else.
    Well, almost everything else.

  8. @angelneptunestar dmnyc: He is very competitive and would not wish to think he lacked a sense of despair – no, no there is lots for him to despair about bubbling away beneath that veneer.

    Consider this Graham Greene quote: “Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim”.

  9. Mel – ah, I see. So to paraphrase Boris: we shouldn’t completely discount that under that elaborately constructed veneer of a happy, carefree mop top, there lies a mop top tackling an ambitious agenda?

    Some political commentator (speaking on the type of men who have been NYC Mayor) said being Mayor of New York City must be the most impossible job in the world. No matter what you do, how you plan or how you do it, over half your agenda will get left out, forgotten or sacrificed to shifting priorities that never stop shifting. Obviously the office of Mayor of London has a different scope and brief that the mayor of NYC but it must present the same sort of challenge.

    I know I wouldn’t want to do try it. I’d be out of there in a week tops! I applaud them (both Boris and mini-Mayor) for their continued efforts to “scale that mountain” day after day.

  10. Mel, there is so much furore over the BP crisis and Boris has impressed us all by defending the UK and BP. You have an on the spot journalist in Gotham Girl. I would love to hear her view of Boris’s remarks, and her take on the crisis.

  11. “The prospect of deep cuts being made to Britain’s rail services this autumn was looking increasingly likely yesterday as the Government brought forward an independent review of the industry’s ballooning costs.”

    This is no surprise: the railways were run down and consistently late (and dangerous) under the Conservatives and they will probably revert to being so.

  12. It’s difficult to watch the World Cup now with those bush-people blowing their vuvuzelas so noisily in the stadium. It’s like watching a football match with thousands of motorists sitting in their cars in the stadium and honking their cars’ horns noisily non-stop, right through the match.

    Now, the newspapers say football Brits in South Africa have bought those vuvuzelas to take home and will use them at football matches at home. You can now buy imported vuvuzelas in the UK, too.

  13. I don’t think people should ban the vuvuzelas! They are endemic to South Africa, and moaning about them is like when British people go abroad and then complain that they can’t find the stuff you get in England!

    Ed, I’m not a football fan, never watch it except for the World Cup, but no, i don’t think it is boring at all!

    Hope for the English team! Switzerland, ranked 40th in the world, have beaten the red hot favourites, Spain! This is so great! Sorry, that is tactless to the Spanish, but can’t help it. so England haven’t done as badly we were thinking…

    I know that I will get lots of red ticks for my football comments, which everyone finds infuriating, but I am just trying to be nice and cheer all these pessimists up! Come on England!

  14. “Despair is the price one pays for setting oneself an impossible aim”.

    I think there’s going to be a lot more of that – because I can’t see anyone ever winning a FPTP election again.

  15. Angel, your optimism is to be applauded. Despite yearning
    for the days of Best, Law and Charlton, I join you in cheering on the Swiss in their victory over the Spanish.
    But I can’t help seeing the World Cup as having turned into a festival of greed. How long before FIFA kicks out the outmoded nation v nation concept? And gets to the point: Adidas v Nike, Coke v Pepsi, Toyota v Ford, etc.,etc.
    Oh, and the vuvuzelas – Health and Safety will stamp those out two weeks into the next season. Too much like people enjoying themselves.

  16. Those vuvuzelas are really just too much, love. I am glad I am not sitting in one of those stadium right now, although I can well afford it ten times over. Not that I’m boasting, of course.

  17. Hahaha Ed, you are so funny! I’m glad that the country that gave us the cuckoo clock won a game, but look at the state that Spain, the red hot favourites, are in now! France aren’t doing too hot either! If they lose tonight, they will be in danger of going out and they are ranked 9th, one ranking below us. Denmark let in an own goal, on the way to losing to the mighty Netherlands, imagine the humiliation if Green had done that!

    As a race, we fight and play a lot more defensively than most countries. Our rugby teams win by battening down the hatches, exhausting their opponents, and then suddenly cutting loose, to score the killer try. We will never be like the flashy, exhibitionist French.

    OK, we were not the best in the first round. But we scored a brilliant goal, and we were getting the feel of the competition. We could have done a hell of a lot worse. If, whenever you made a mistake, you knew you would be ripped to pieces by the press, wouldn’t you feel nervous? It’s Capello’s birthday tomorrow and he has a Sun trine Neptune aspect, an exceptionally lucky sign.

    There is plenty to feel optimistic about. English people are known for their fighting spirit when their backs are to the wall. Your thoughts might become your future, even Steven Hawking said that. So if we visualise England winning and save the carping for later,if ever, maybe that will be our way of helping. I think they will fight their way through the next few games and win. We love our team, and we believe in them. COME ON ENGLAND!!!

  18. Angel, the offerings from all the big names, (except Argentina) have been miserable so far. If England don’t win it this time, maybe they should pack it in.
    I’m fascinated by your interest in the rankings of the teams. I think the positions are arrived at by scoring various weighted aspects of their performance, goalscoring, defending, discipline, quality of opposition and so on. Maybe a similar ranking system could be set up for our beloved politicos?
    So many points for good speeches in the house, penalties for being savaged by Paxman or old ladies, pluses or minuses
    for the degree of colour in private life….but who would sponsor it? John Lewis?The Scotch Whisky Association?

  19. Ed, as I write, I am in ecstacy! Germany are losing to Serbia! Hahaha how are the mighty fallen! That will teach them to cheek Capello, and make fun of our boys! Bragging and being nasty before a game is not sporting behaviour and often backfires. Look at Australia in the last Rugby World Cup.

    France lost last night, going down 2-0 to Mexico! Spain lost too! Germany are about to be hugely humiliated, hahahahaha. We are so much better placed than them! Sorry, that’s not nice.

    It would be good to do a politicos ranking, except for one thing. I do not believe we have the right to judge any politician’s private life, that is their own affair. If we examine the great US Presidents, there are many things in the lives of the best of them that might offend bourgeois morality. Those things, in my opinion, do not detract from the tremendous good that those Presidents have done. Why do we think we have a right to judge anyone for their private life, why do we think we can make people conform to a morality that is only the narrow understanding of a certain group?

    Once a bishop told my mother that nothing is worse than the sin of unkindness and I agree with that. So we could rank them on how kind they are as a category.

  20. This is even better than I thought! Germany have lost to Serbia. But not only that! Germany took a penalty……. and missed. The Serbian keeper made the save of his life! This is karma, payback with a vengeance! When you go out to hurt someone who has not hurt you, in the end you get paid back to the power of three. Never was this witchy belief proved to be so true.

  21. Angel, I have failed miserably to express myself. By ‘colour in their private life’, I meant the entertainment value of the politicos off-field activities. I’m thinking of Ted Heath and his boat, Nick Clegg’s penchant for counting his paramours, Mandelson’s EU pension, and so on. Are they interesting people? Boris would score very highly; Ed Balls would get zilch.
    You are so right:kindness is an excellent measure.
    The Grateful Dead asked, “Are you kind?” I think this is an essential attribute of any politician. Take Cameron, Clegg or Brown – which one do you think would give a fiver to a starving man?

  22. Municipality owned battery firms in US good investment and wonders for creating jobs:

    “I’ve never seen anything quite like this.” .. All told, Michigan has attracted $6 billion in investment over the past 18 months geared toward battery-powered vehicle production.

    Michigan has emerged as a battery hub partly because of its historic strengths as a manufacturing center, but also because the state was aggressive about offering tax incentives that have supplemented the federal grant dollars for private companies.

    The electric company is municipally owned and offers rates that are about 20 percent less than the Michigan average.

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=127856666

  23. what happens on the Cycle Hire scheme if your bike is stolen, as thousands will be since they come without locks?

  24. Ed, we could do our own lists and compare. I do think John Major was a kind man. He had a lot of compassion, and also a lot of strength. He ranks high on my list of politicians.

  25. the england team deserve all they get
    Cappello all well and good till the big one a joke
    What about the foulmouthed scouse git
    So drop Rooney captaincy back to john terry and if the men cant do with out a bit of nooky for a couple of weeks thank god they are not servicemen
    if they get really bored how about extra lessons on how to tame the ball
    if i had paid big bucks to go out there and watch spanker rooney and they would have got more than boo

  26. Angel, John Major is casually dismissed by so many, possibly
    because of his kindness and decency. He won an election, weathered a recession, kicked off the Irish peace process, and presided over the increasing prosperity of the nation, only to be washed away by a tidal wave of Mandelsonian smarm and spin.
    Also:why don’t England play in red? Everything else in England seems to be in the red.

  27. The stupidity of statistics:

    British nationals are four times more at risk to face death when they travel to Canada compared to the US!!! And double risk of losing their passport !

    (Source: Statistics Canada and Statistics USA data for 2008-2009)

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