Tuesday 4 July 2006

They think it's all over

So England’s dreams of World Cup glory have crashed in flames yet again, leaving me absolutely gutted. I had been so looking forward to another couple of interludes when I could drive on empty roads to refreshingly quiet stores, and get on with the tedious minutiae of my life.

I don’t know why football has always failed to captivate me. It may have something to do with being born shortly before Newcastle United embarked on a 50-year trophy famine, and listening to my father moan about it every weekend. From a very early age, it therefore seemed to me that being a football fan wasn’t necessarily a recipe for personal contentment.

Then there is the fact that I’ve never possessed the basic co-ordination necessary to kick a ball at all, still less to bend it like Beckham. There’s nothing like having two school team captains fight over you (‘You have him’ – ‘No, you have him. We had him last time.’) to put a fellow off a game. Things got no better when I went to a secondary school where they played what they called rugger, for which I displayed an equal lack of aptitude.

I’ve strived for years to enjoy cricket, on the basis that it is quintessentially English and uniquely civilized in allowing 41 per cent of the players to spend half the game sitting with their feet up in the pavilion, enjoying a good book and a jug of Pimms. But somehow I’ve never quite got there, once again deterred by my own lack of ability and the erratic performance of our national side. As for tennis, need I say more than ‘Tim Henman’?

And so I came to spend the never-to-be-forgotten afternoon of the 1966 World Cup Final playing in a Darras Hall garden with my friend Richard, and casually enquired when I got home how much we had lost by. Imagine my surprise. I do recall that our victory was a massive boost to national morale, and within months Harold Wilson was fearlessly sending the RAF to bomb the supertanker Torrey Canyon off the Scilly Isles. Beginning a campaign of recklessly assertive militarism that culminated in the invasion of the Caribbean island of Anguilla by a couple of dozen truncheon-wielding London policemen in 1969.

Thank goodness we didn’t do particularly well in the World Cup of 1982, or Margaret Thatcher might have been moved to follow up her Falklands victory by sending the Girl Guides into Patagonia. And as for 2006, with Tony Blair’s established record of invading other countries at the drop of hat – well, the consequences of an England win don’t really bear thinking about. What might he have attempted in amid a mood of national euphoria unequalled since John Prescott’s diary secretary made those very disloyal revelations about his inadequacy in a certain department, and I don’t mean the ODPM?

Let’s just say that I bet the President of North Korea slept more soundly on Saturday night than he has for quite some time.

As the crosses of St George are detached from their white vans and we start the traditional English four year debate on who to blame – Wayne or Sven – I shall leave you with two thoughts.

First, while admitting my almost total ignorance of football, I do seem to detect a pattern in our ejection from these tournaments. Might it not be a good idea for the new manager to give the boys a bit of practice in taking penalties?

And, secondly, remember that none of it really matters at all. Why on earth should the limited ability of eleven men to kick a ball around some grass really be allowed to set the mood of the other 50 million of us? Give me one good reason why it matters if our football team does well? Oh yes, it really, really annoys the Scots. So that’s all right, then. Enger-land! Enger-LAND! I can’t wait for 2010.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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