I thought I was immune. I know how this story ends. Every. Single. Time. I hadn’t watched England play an international in years because their style of play was soporific and they acted like they didn’t want to be there. I don’t enjoy international weekends during the season, because I prefer watching the Premier League.
I wasn’t overly invested in this team in the group stage. Even after the Panama game, my interest level was low. It was the Colombia game where they began to entice me. More specifically it was winning the penalty shootout. Watching it from a hotel room, I began to find myself urging the team on, slapping my hands together in frustration when they played badly and yelling c’mon when they played well.
Like millions of others, I had a sinking feeling when Colombia scored and in extra-time, I adopted the gallows humour that is so quintessentially English. When the game went to penalties, I tweeted this:
When Jordan Henderson stepped up, my heart sank. When his penalty was saved, I felt crushed by a sense of inevitability. Here was another false dawn. Except Jordan Pickford had other ideas, saving 2 penalties and giving the final taker a chance to send us to the quarter final. Quick note: any English person who tells you they were confident that Dier would score that penalty is lying or has the surname Dier. I thought about Pearce and Waddle in 1990, Ince and Batty in 1998 and Lampard, Gerrard and Carragher in 2006. England football has too often felt like an unreliable partner, promising so much and failing to deliver. Dier missing his penalty felt preordained. Then this happened:
In that instant, the unreliable partner had bought me a bunch of flowers, told me they were sorry and they would change. They meant it this time and proved that they were different by beating Sweden comfortably. I was telling people that this time they had changed and they weren’t going to let me down again.
How much did I buy in?
I said to another fan before the Croatia game that if England scored in the first 10 minutes, I could see us running away with it. When Trippier did his best Beckham impression, I felt like the oracle. I was confident. When Lingard missed from 18 yards, I believed. When Kane missed a sitter (which he should have passed), I still believed. After all, this England team was different, wasn’t it?
The second half was painful. England were being outplayed and it felt like Croatia were first to every loose ball. England looked like a boxer with knockout power and a weak chin. My belief was now being supported by alcohol.
If the second half was painful, extra-time was enervating. England were reverting back to their old ways, the earlier promises made after Colombia and Sweden forgotten. Without Sterling, England lacked an attacking threat (the writer would like you to know how much restraint he has shown in not ranting about Sterling’s treatment in the press and a subset of people that call themselves fans – Ed). As the final whistle blew, the England fans commiserated. We brought out all the standard platitudes; we were “proud of the lads”, they had “played their hearts out” and so on. We were all crushed and drowned our sorrows with alcohol and, as the photo that leads this post makes clear, we drowned them thoroughly. It wouldn’t have hurt so much if they had been knocked out in the second round. But, as anyone that sticks with an unreliable partner will tell you, it’s the hope that kills. I can say I’ll never care again, that I enjoy the Premier League more and that there are bigger things to care about. But deep down, I know that come the next tournament, I’ll be sucked in again. It’s like Michael Corleone said in The Godfather 3:
See you in 2020.