Up until a few years ago, I was a die-hard fan of the England football team. Granted I don’t follow any particular team nationally or locally, although I have had flirtations with Liverpool FC (Ray Clemence) and Manchester Utd (Bryan Robson). And I have more recently taken a keen interest in an up & coming ladies football team Yeovil Town Ladies FC. But I have grown up watching football on the TV and do have a pretty good understanding of the beautiful game – enough to be able to see when good football is being played and when it isn’t, regardless of the score-line. One of my football anecdotes relates to an England game in the early 90s, when my friend and I were both watching while on the phone to each other. We could both see exactly what was right and wrong with the formation and had a good old conversation about it. The following morning, I was driving into work and the sports commentator on the radio repeated our conversation pretty much word for word, which shows you don’t have to be an expert to have an understanding if you’re interested enough.
My personal journey with the World Cup started in 1986, with the infamous ‘Hand of God’ from Maradona. Four years later David Platt’s goal in the dying minutes sent me and my then partner down the pub to celebrate, before England were knocked out on penalties. After failing to qualify in 1994, all eyes were on the Euros; by this time I was working in Bristol, and a young Gareth Southgate missed his penalty. And so to 1998, when I was dating a colleague in Manchester; by now there were a lot of football songs being released, and I made sure I had every single one – it didn’t help England (or my relationship), but France proved themselves to be worthy winners in their homeland. I watched with immense pride our win against Germany in 2001, and the following year my male colleagues decided to test my knowledge before allowing me to join them for the early morning matches; these I passed with flying colours, and I was instructed to wear my ‘lucky’ England jacket for every game. Unfortunately it didn’t work for the Ronaldinho free kick, and it was little comfort that Brazil went on to win the cup. 2006 was a very difficult year for me professionally, but it did involve a few work related days out, after one of which my colleague and I stopped off at a pub on the way home where they were not only showing the England game but also had a barbeque! By 2010 I had changed jobs, and this was an interesting year for me romantically. I remember sitting in a local pub with a chap I was seeing at the time, and after expressing my feelings about Wayne Rooney, his friend declared that I knew more about football than he did. Luckily for me, by 2014 I had met Chris, but it was the start of the end for me and the England football team. All I could see was a bunch of overpaid prima-donnas that didn’t play as a team and certainly didn’t deserve the fans’ undying devotion. Chris tried to defend this citing lack of resource in the English side, but it didn’t stop me from following them for a couple of years.
Gareth Southgate has changed all of that - I was pleasantly surprised and delighted at how well his young team has conducted itself during the recent World Cup Finals. An England team playing as a team, and actually wanting to win!
England once again has a team to be proud of – football is definitely coming home, it’s just taking a typically English leisurely stroll through the scenic route …