At the start of this world cup I set out to write a blog every day of the tournament, for most of the tournament I did just that but for one reason or another I didn’t quite hit my target. One of the reasons I have not written in the last couple of days is because it was my son’s birthday on Thursday so the day was dedicated to him, today (Friday) we have continued his celebrations so i am just getting round to the task now. I didn’t avoid writing the blog because I was too devastated and upset after England’s game on Wednesday. That being said……….
As everyone knows by now England lost to Croatia Wednesday night, 2-1 after extra time in the Semi Finals of the World Cup. Now it was a crushing blow and one that I didn’t take too well, I’ve not really come to terms with it now to be honest but it is in a different context than any other England defeat. That is usually one of anger and embarrassment and with it usually comes the ‘I’m not watching England anymore’ speech that I have recited many times over the years. Just check back with one of earlier blogs and you’ll see it in there. No this time there are a few strange emotions about the end of England’s world cup campaign. One of those emotions is Pride. Now i know we didn’t win anything and getting beat by Croatia in the semi finals is not something we should be proud of, but we achieved so much more than any of us expected. I said at the start of the tournament that all I wanted from England in this tournament was to get out of the group stage and put at least one performance in that I could say, yes, remember when. You can look back in the blogs and check. Well we did that and then some. The Panama game is one most England fans will not soon forget. If you want to be picky about it you can go on about the opposition but why? We know we should be beating teams like Panama with ease, so when we do, why not enjoy it. If you don’t want to use that as a memorable performance why not have the Colombia game? Are we a better side then Colombia? I’m not so sure. Should we have beaten them in 90 minutes? Probably so, but who cares, to win a World Cup penalty shoot out is something I soon won’t forget. The celebration is one I will definitely cherish for years to come. How about the Sweden game? Wasn’t a classic, wasn’t a memorable performance but it was a controlled performance and a game we never looked like losing. It also confirmed a place in the Semi Finals. Again not a feeling you forget easily. Ok so that’s where the dream ended and the hopes of a nation disappeared as Mario Mandzukic gave Croatia a 2-1 lead after England had led for over an hour. At that point we all knew it was over and 52 years of hurt was set to continue.
Now as a grown man I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t take it very well, to my credit, I managed to hold back the tears. Until i got home and then I wept behind closed doors in the privacy of my own home. I can’t help it, that’s how much England’s national team means to me. It’s not always easy to connect with the England team. Sometimes you just don’t take to the Manager. It may be the Captain you don’t like, the so-called world-class players who you think are overrated or you just don’t like the players because of who they play for. Sometimes their reaction to us as fans or to results has annoyed us and we can’t forgive or forget. It took David Beckham nearly 4 years and a free kick alongside a mammoth performance against Greece to win back the England fans after his sending off against Argentina at France 98. Not all players were or at least seemed that determined to impress in an England shirt. Recent revelations by the likes of Ferdinand and Lampard about their own behaviour and regrets at tournaments only fuelled people’s feeling towards past England sides. This current England side came into the tournament and everything felt different. The lack of confidence and expectation in the side my have helped them relax but it was probably more, the confidence that Southgate had in his side and the closeness of this young team. Heading out to Russia there was a lot of talk on how open and approachable this side was, from open meetings, to NFL style interviews, Southgate had done his homework. He knew where England had shot themselves in the foot before and he wasn’t going to allow it to happen on his watch. There were one or two incidents where Southgate misread situations but dealt with them well and never lost the media. They were behind him all the way and that helped. We always point fingers at the media and how they always seem ready to tear our national side down, but they have a job to do and if you give them the fuel we can’t be annoyed when it happens. Everyone involved with the England side handled media and fans brilliantly and you have to applaud the FA because you have to believe that they have had a big hand in making sure this social media savvy squad were utilised, things like ‘The Lions Den’ on Facebook and Twitter meant squad and fans were connecting like never before. It allowed us to get to know them and I have definitely had my opinion on a few players changed.
This new found connection was non more so evident than after the final whistle against Croatia. As the game was clearly slipping away the fans began to sing ‘God save the queen’ and as Croatia were celebrating England players sat distraught on the floor, Gareth Southgate walked around picking them off the floor clearly reminding them on what they had achieved and to embrace the love for the fans, the travelling England fans then belted out their travelling anthem of ‘Don’t take me home’ nearly 30 minutes after the game the England fans serenaded the team of a rousing rendition of Oasis’ ‘Don’t look back in anger’. That one got to me, especially after my blog regarding music and football. This is so far removed from the sight of England fans walking out in disgust after the defeat to Iceland. At home, fans in the pubs were standing and applauding the players as if we were actually at the game. This was just a pure show of appreciation and unity again so great to see after years of vile abuse of being thrown at the TV.
Headlines like the one above were a joy to see the following day and again English media had bought in to Southgate and his young lions. Heroes was another headline. Not everyone agreed, heroes may be overstating it but a hero is simply someone who inspires you. They may not have saved anybody, they may not have put their life on the line or ran into a burning building. What they have done and did do was to inspire a nation, young and old, restored faith in OUR game, the game we love, we live it and we breathe it and whether your club before country or like me who loves both the same but I chose to support West Brom and I am proud of that and the club I support, I was born in England, I didn’t choose to support England, I am English there was never any doubt in supporting England, so that just adds that something special to it and so does watching it with all your friends and family when clubs and colours are put to the side and we are all as one. To get so close to the final when it was the furthest thing from our minds was special and it made for an amazing 3 weeks that I enjoyed more than I ever expected. Reconnecting with the England national side felt like reconnecting with a long lost family and I hope that we never lose touch again.
Ok the World Cup Trophy never came home but in a way I think we can all agree in way football did come home.
Thank you England x