London’s pubs go quiet as England’s World Cup dreams die

The three and a half week party is over and football is not coming home from Russia

England fans watch England’s 2018 World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

England fans watch England’s 2018 World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters

 

The carryout bags are full. Doritos and beer. Red bags and white bags. Lots of them. A takeaway rush hour at 6.45pm. Some are going home, others to the pub. Southfields in southwest London and the city world has stopped revolving. Because football is coming home.

The main street is empty of people and energy. The charge, the current has gone inside. Sucked from the footpaths and roads, only the St George’s flags stuck on cars and strewn across buildings flap limply in dead air.

London fields are quiet because, says Lewis – who is drinking larger outside on a bench – football is coming home.

“What do you think?” he asks. Penalties, you say. That, he thinks, is too open to chance, too unpredictable.

Inside the air is febrile. For some there is too much at stake. There is expectancy and concern in The Old Fields Pub.

Fans react to a near miss at the Rose & Crown pub, in Wimbledon, south London. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
Fans react to a near miss at the Rose & Crown pub, in Wimbledon, south London. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire

England defender Harry Maguire is yelling and punching the air before the match starts. A cheer goes up. Gareth Southgate and his waistcoat. Another cheer. England kick off.

Kieran Trippier and his curving free kick send the pub into a full on rave. The barman holds up a sign saying ‘Keep Calm.’ Now they are singing it. Football is coming home.

On BBC London it was waistcoat day. Former Wimbledon player Vinnie Jones told Piers Morgan, wearing a St Georges Cross waistcoat, that all teams need some luck just like he did in his career.

Croatia take their first free kick. “Oooohhh,” groan the crowd in sauna heat. Beery breath. Maguire goes up for his first header. Beef and two veg. A brawn player. Jones told Morgan he will be one of the players of the World Cup.

Harry Kane is taken out on 22 minutes. “Wanker, wanker, wanker,” chants a teenager. Nobody joins him. Then it is Kane again and Lingard.

“Just knocking on the door, you know,” says another teen to nobody in particular. Half time and the pub melts out into bright sunshine.

England fans watch the match outside of a pub in London. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
England fans watch the match outside of a pub in London. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Banalities fill the swollen air and fly around like England back passes. “We need another goal. Pass it to a white shirt. Blow your fucking whistle, referee. Track back Lingard.”

Never. Then a goal comes as they often do without warning and to howls of protest. Perisic stabs his boot at a low cross and it goes in. This time the groan is of a different kind.

Then a low level murmur takes over and within a minute there are shrieks as Croatia hit the post. Then a Harry Kane header goes nowhere close at all. Then it is extra time.

Then, with eight minutes, to go 200 people say “shit” all at once. Then 200 people go silent all at once. And the people outside smoking and peering through the window run inside. But they can’t get in because the pub is full anyway.

It is a charged, sullen quiet that consumes the room. All watching the ticking seconds in the corner. When it tumbles back to zero life resumes in a vacuum, cheer levels fall to mundane.

Stop all the clocks, turn off the telephone, For nothing now can ever come to any good. London has fallen into a hushed stillness.

Football is not coming home.

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