The faces on those kids. They don’t know what they’re singing about. Thirty years of hurt? Fifty? Most of the people in that crowd weren’t born when England lifted their last footballing trophy.
You might think it’s all about the kids, but it really isn’t. While their faces lit up our screens during the EUROS and we spoke of a utopian future where boys wore shirts with women’s names on the back and girls dream of being Chloe Kelly, for many of us it was something else too. I’ve been watching the men’s game for over twenty years and have never felt as much excitement, as many nerves and as much pride as I did on the final whistle.
I’ve also never felt like I’d missed out on something as much as I did on that day.
You’re an alright bloke, y’know. You were a decent player, blah blah, you’ve given a home to a Ukrainian refugee, you trigger the Daily Mail and its associated panto villains on an hourly basis, and mostly you know what you’re talking about on Match of the Day (something few pundits can state with confidence). You also really piss people off by shamelessly selling crisps. I respect that.
It was the summer of 2009 and the biggest transfer in football history was about to be announced. The gangly eighteen-year-old with crooked teeth, greasy hair and dodgy trousers, that arrived at Old Trafford four years before was about to take the next step on his journey towards becoming a global icon. 70,000 people would turn up to see Real Madrid present Cristiano Ronaldo as their new player.
“Do you actually like football? Or do you just fancy the players?”
Traditionally this question has been the province of male football fans disturbed by the presence of women at matches or pubs showing matches. The assumption being that watching men run around a field for ninety minutes couldn’t possibly be interesting in itself and we must therefore be motivated by other forces. What they failed to take into consideration is that few women would put themselves through the trauma of standing in the tightly packed away end of a third tier football ground with gangs of swearing blokes brandishing cups of hot beef juice, just catch a glimpse of the centre back’s arse.
Happily, we now have 4K TV, so it’s less of an issue.
Pre-season friendlies are meaningless. Take the results as an indicator that you’re going to have a banging season and you can fully expect to be out of contention for Europe by Christmas. A tour of south east Asia where the only notable event is your left back making a racial slur on Instagram and you can prepare for silverware.
Thirty-six hours before a ball is kicked, the narrative is taking shape. In the vernacular of the British tabloid press, England’s plucky Lionesses are now pitted in an ideological battle against the arrogant US Women’s National Team (USWNT). Not for goals, victories or honours, although one can assume that a game of football will break out at some point, but for the title of most dignified.
Megan Rapinoe won’t be winning that. She and her trophy hoovering cohorts’ behaviour on and off the pitch have been endlessly scrutinised and critiqued since this latest incarnation emerged onto the world stage, consistently failing to impress despite winning a World Cup, Olympic Gold, two CONCACAF Gold Cups and two SheBelieves Cups. They’re arrogant, apparently.
This is Israel’s opinion. I assume he believes it with every fibre of his being and for my part, I hope he’ll be crushingly disappointed when he arrives in the afterlife, realises intolerance is a unwanted by-product of humanity and that he’s about to spend eternity with the drunk gay fornicating atheists who know how to throw a decent party.
Yesterday a man in a flat cap and an ill fitting shirt ran onto a football pitch and attempted to punch another man in the face. The puncher was a twenty-seven year old Birmingham City fan. The punchee was Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish.