You find me today in a strange limbo of NO FOOTBALL. It is very weird indeed - it has been ALL FOOTBALL nearly every day for, as far as I recall, DECADES and now suddenly we are in a space of NONE. I can only hope it returns tomorrow or LORD knows what we will do.
The only thing weirder than the lack of football is the presence of a strange new emotion that I have never previously felt in regard to the England Football team, which feels almost like LOVE. I don't know what it is, but every time I hear Gareth Southgate being Entirely Reasonable on television, or see him consoling a Colombian, or nursing a small kitten back to health, something WELLS UP inside me that makes me want to shake him firmly by the hand and buy him a pint. It's similar with the team themselves - most of my life I have seen them as wallies, prats and, occasionally, outright gits, but this current lot appear to be Delightful Young Men. It is probably my GRATE AGE, but I have an URGE to hire a mini-bus and take them all on an outing to ALTON TOWERS or a CITY FARM, because by golly I think they deserve it.
These feelings were only increased watching the game against Colombia on Tuesday night when, in the words of a certain song they really DID behave like "a team of virtuous saints". I've seen England play nasty teams before, but seeing the Colombians screaming, fouling, head-butting and, most infuriating of all, DESECRATING THE PENALTY SPOT felt like watching the local sixth-formers who lurk around, giggling to each other, outside my local shop being suddenly SHOVED AROUND by some Older Boys who are SMOKING. I tell you what, it made me want to go over there and give them a STERN PIECE OF MY MIND!
Overall I have been FLIPPING LOVING this World Cup (Spain VS Portugal! Belgium VS Japan! Korea VS Germany!) but I did not enjoy this game AT ALL. As well as feeling outraged I felt TERRIFIED at every stage, so when that last minute equaliser went in it felt like a long awaited DOOM descending. I was getting STOMACH CRAMPS during the extra time, and I must confess to considering leaving the room all together when the penalties began.
However, as the shootout commenced myself and The Net Of My Goal (who had remained Remarkably Calm until this point) noticed something rather wonderful happening. Round the corner from our house a Big Screen had been set up, which had 900 people watching the same game as us but, apparently, approximately ONE SECOND ahead. THUS whenever an England player began his run up we would hear a MIGHTY ROAR just before he scored, or a MIGHTY GROAN if he didn't, coming from the future-viewers down the road. This made the entire experience SIGNIFICANTLY less stressful, especially when Jordan Wonderful Pickford SAVED one and ESPECIALLY especially when Eric Dier stepped up to take the final winning shot. There was a BEAUTIFUL moment when we heard a MIGHTY CHEER and KNEW that we were going to win, just it began to happen on our telly. It was one of those out of body experiences you hear about, when time itself slowed down to one elongated perfect moment.
I think I would like it very much if ALL big events could have a BIG SCREEN round the corner in future, preferably about a WEEK ahead of me, to reassure me that things will turn out all right.
All of the above has of course engendered ANOTHER unusual emotion related to the England Team: HOPE. I have been singing "Three Lions" to myself for the past couple of days, and am imagining England ACTUALLY WINNING THE WORLD CUP... well, all right, I am imagining England NARROWLY LOSING TO BRAZIL IN THE FINAL, but that's still a lot more than my usual expectation of them losing 7-0 to the Isle Of Wight and John Terry punching somebody, so I will take what I can get. For now at least, it is very much COMING HOME!