Suffering in the way I've always wanted
You all know how it panned out by now. Waddle missed. And just like that, a moment; a World Cup; a nation; a generation, all dissolved into grief. A deep, resonant sadness. An echoing, nauseating, exasperated cry for what might have been.
And then came pride. Affection. Adoration. England poured its heart into a glorious failure. England devoted itself to the memory of Gazza’s tears. To Lineker’s class. To Bobby Robson’s grace. England fell in love with a team that lost because its all they had to throw their hearts at. And that’s what they did, without shame or recourse to pondering upon ‘what went wrong?’ but rather a deep emotional investment into what almost went so right.
And you know the worst thing? I missed fucking all of it.
The truth is, for a football loving 22-year-old, 1966 is just too long ago. It’s a triumph that belongs to England, but it hardly belongs to me or my generation.
1990 though. It could’ve been ours. It was so close to being within the grasp of our collective memory. All that agony. All of that pain. All of that regret. The what ifs. The why nots. They were all so close to being mine too. I was born a measly decade or so too late.
I’m sure there is a term in medicine, or psychology, for existing within the condition of being envious of other people’s suffering. That’s what I was. I was jealous of all those England fans who had 1990 to be so wistfully bittersweet about. I wanted that. I didn’t care that it would hurt because at least it would matter, and when was the last time an England team even managed that?
I got my wish. My stupid, naive, petulant wish. England finally made me care. Made me believe. Made me fall head over heels for Tottenham players. They achieved the impossible by filling my heart with the kind of patriotic pride I had previously believed was reserved for Brexiteers and royalists. Then that heart was torn out. By experience. By pragmatism. By efficiency. By Croatia.
Do I wish it had been different? Yes.
Do I wish it hadn’t happened? No. Of course not.
The truth is, as lovable, hard working and organised as this England side are, they’ll never have a better chance of reaching a World Cup final than they had here. The cards fell. The Kings (Germany, Spain, Brazil) were swept from the table. The Jokers (Italy, Holland) had never been included in the deck. What remained? Jacks (France, Belgium). And Lions. Which confused every one.
In all likelihood, this is as good as it gets for this England team. Or any England team for the foreseeable future. I hope I’m wrong, but I’m speaking in likelihoods here.
So, what did it all mean, for me?
It means I’ll probably never see my country win a World Cup. It means, when we had the best chance of glory we’ve had in over a quarter of a century it slipped away. It means I got what I always wanted, a genuine fucking World Cup experience. The kind of international football agony I can forever hang my browbeaten England fan hat on. I got what I can tell my children, and theirs...”yeah, but you never saw the 2018 World Cup. That was the one. Our one. Almost.”
And in that sense, if no other, I win. I, and my generation, got their very own 1990.
Keep your trophies. I have painful memories now. If loving football for as long as I can remember has taught me anything, it’s that they’re what the fans really cling to.
Thank you England. It was a blast. If you’d gone all the way, I’d never have forgiven you.