If you’re not English. If you’re not old enough. You might be forgiven for not knowing when England last won the World Cup. So, I’ll tell you… 1066. No, hang on… that was the Battle of Hastings. [We lost that, too, by the way.] Nope, it was 1666. [Pardon? Oh, the Great Fire of London, of course.] Then it must’ve been 1766.
Uh, at least that’s what it feels like! Actually, no! What am I saying with my chucklesome historical reference points… the fact that it was 1966, and I was 3½, means I have absolutely no recollection of that heady nationalistic home-of-the-game fervour. I vaguely recall the subsequent disappointment, aged a tender, yet football fever emotionally phlegmatic 7½-year-old, in the boiling Mexico heat of 1970 and a glorious defeat to the Pele inspired Brazil.
Since then England have served up a seemingly endless catalogue of temptation. That is, a glorious flattery to deceive… before the bitter reality bites home like chomping down on… not just a lemon. Oh, no. But an unripe lemon! World Cups, European Championships… endless, endless sweet cherries dangled before my eyes, then chomp… always the unripe lemon, er, painted a sweet cherry colour. So, not even just lemons, but a mouthful of paint! And most probably a lead-based paint! Which might account for much of subsequent emotional instability in the field of football. [Just don’t talk to me about penalties outside of a secure psychiatric unit.]
Until… this World Cup. Everything was calm; realistic; the lowest expectations ever. An England side essentially appearing vulnerable from the start, yet bristling with youngsters for the future. [Yeah, we’ve heard that before: the golden generation. One that subsequently delivered… lead-based painted lemons by the bucket-load!] So, what do they go and do in their first group match? Lose to Italy. But can they just lose and we all offer a hapless Bless ’em collective shrug. Oh, no. They play really well and lose. The worst kind of loss. Why? Because it raises expectations again. A very decent Italian side were considered fortunate to win, and we’ll breeze past Uruguay [after their lamentable first match performance] and Costa Rica… then who knows what worldly riches might lay just around the corner? [As the draw lines up, another glorious defeat by Brazil, probably! But that’s not the point!]
So, I sit – with my dear old dad [possibly for our last World Cup] – perched on the edge of promise. And what do we get… the sound of a large lorry reversing up the driveway, and on its side a mouthwatering image of luscious ripe cherries… which someone has roughly spray painted over with the word ‘lemons’. The bitterness never tasted so… er, sweetly predictable!
It feels genuinely lousy; like something of great anatomical importance has unexpectedly and alarmingly prolapsed. My dear old dad limps away into the night like a wounded, aged animal, muttering how he won’t be back for the entrails of Costa Rica. And I’m left watching the highlights… alone, knee deep in the detritus of shattered hopes and lemon peel.
So, some things never change. Or, apparently they do: it seems we’ve never enjoyed the particular misery of losing both our opening games in a World Cup before. Which must mean I now have the full England Football Misery set. [Panini take note – a special edition in the waiting.]
On a final serious note… [I’m used to hiding my misery well with gallows humour! 😉]
I was genuinely astounded to hear, having taken the eminent sports psychologist, Steve Peters – the man credited with underpinning the incredibly successful British cycling achievements of recent times – as the game kicked off last night we were informed that Steve Gerrard and Frank Lampard [the epitome of the lemon deliverymen of the aforementioned golden generation] had given a pre-match speech on the wretched misery of losing. So, these youngsters, untainted by failure, as a lift[?!], were schooled in the fear of failure before what was probably the biggest match of their careers, so far. How can that be a psychologically positive thing to do? It’s not exactly steeped in accentuating and visualising the positive, eh?! And maybe it wasn’t just coincidence that the team appeared almost collectively crippled by fear in that first half, and the opening minutes of the second period, too. Too late.
As for Uruguayan brilliant irritant Luis Suarez, half fit, with one good leg, the only thing missing from his armoury was a helmet from the Norman conquests; although he pretty much fired an arrow into Roy Hodgson’s eye.