No more chuckling - football may actually be coming home
View from the couch: this World Cup is the gift that just doesn’t know when to desist from giving
England manager Gareth Southgate celebrates with England's Eric Dier after his penalty kick secured victory in the World Cup Round of 16 against Colombia at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow. Photograph: Tim Goode/PA Wire
“Good gawd, England win on pens . . . we’re not chuckling any more’
All of us who’ve spent the last week or so chuckling at our neighbour’s unwavering belief that 52 years of hurt will soon end? We’re not chuckling any more. This is getting profoundly serious.
As Eamon Dunphy pointed out before the game, there was a “massive prize” on offer to the victors in Moscow: “Sweden in the quarter-finals?!? And then Croatia or Russia?!? And then you’re in the final! Football’s coming home, baby!”
It might be too.
We simply cannot rule out this possibility any more, there’s something about this England team. For heaven’s sake, they even won on penalties. Methuselah was wearing short pants when that last happened.
You know that oft cited theory about women being biologically programmed to forget the pain of childbirth to ensure that they keep on having babies? There is, apparently, no science to back it up, but there must be heaps of it to prove that England football supporters are biologically programmed to forget the pain of persistently crushed World Cup hopes, otherwise they’d hardly keep coming back for more like they do.
“This is some result away from home for England,” he chuckled as the camera picked out the sadness on the faces of the masses of Colombian fans in the Otkritie Arena. A nano second or two later, Clive was picking the pieces of his heart off the commentary box floor.
“Just when you think you’ve seen it all with England . . . ,” he yelped as the sad Colombians transformed in to a heaving mass of ecstasy.
Truly, this World Cup is the gift that just doesn’t know when to desist from giving. It’s been ruddy marvellous.
Pre-match, the big team news was that Martin O’Neill and Slaven Bilic had been benched by ITV who opted instead for three bulldogs, Gary Neville, Wrightie Wright and Lee Dixon, lest their panel be impartial.
It was probably just as well for Wrightie’s nerves that Mart and Slav were absent, he was in a complete doodah as kick-off approached. “I’m feeling something,” he said, “but I don’t know what it is.” It could have been a stomach ulcer brought on by over-excited butterflies, possibly after having watched ITV’s opening montage of inspiring messages from former England internationals including himself.
It was “BELIEVE!”, “DO IT”, “GO ON THE LADS!”, that kind of thing, but Geoff Hurst opted for “what we need to remember is that we’ve done it before”. This is true, but the oldest member of the England squad, Ashley Young, was born almost 20 years after 1966, so it’s hard to see how that might have been a factor going in to the Colombia game.
But confidence in the studio was ceiling high. Over on RTÉ – and this will surprise you – the mood was somewhat different. “Colombia are not Tunisia,” noted Liam Brady, “and they’re not Panama.”
“Are England any good,” asked Darragh Maloney.
“We don’t know,” said Liam, who was in a mood any way having noted that the only left-footed player in the England team was the goalkeeper, and as the owner of one of football’s finest ever left pegs, this bordered on the unpardonable.
Eamon, though, envisaged the day when it’ll be “arise Sir Gareth – and Sir Harry”. And then he tipped Colombia to win on penalties, so it’d be the Tower for Gareth and Harry.
Teams out. “The Open golf championship is to still to come in this summer of sport,” said Clive, “but first we have the most open championship of football.” Even Glenn sounded like a man who felt Clive needed to work on his sporting analogies.
Clive, in the course of a soliloquy that was largely a paean to Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat, put England’s confidence down to the gaffer’s demeanour. “Football’s always been about getting carried away,” he said, “and it’s easier to get carried away when you know the man in charge won’t get carried away.”
Glenn didn’t know how to respond to that, so he didn’t, but some time later he doffed his cap to Raheem Sterling for turning a “half foul into a full foul”, which is the politest code you’d ever hear for cheating. But then there was apoplexy over Wílmar Barrios not being sent off for nutting Jordan Henderson. By then Colombia had opted to start acting the maggot, when they’d be doing perfectly fine by playing football up until that point.
The ITV panel was aghast, Lee accusing Colombia of “nasty dark arts”, but they remained confident-ish that England would prevail. And then Harry Kane does what Harry Kane tends to do, he nigh on broke the back of the net with a penalty.
“The leading goal-scorer in the World Cup finals – AND HE’S ONE OF OUR OWN,” said Clive, calmly. “No one,” he added, “has scored in six games in a row since the war,” he said, so that was every ‘Clive will mention the war’ bingo card on earth ticked off.
Then the equaliser.
And then, gulp, penalties.
“We feel sick,” said Mark Pougatch, and he actually looked like he was about to hurl all over Nev, Wrightie and Dix.
But good gawd almighty, England prevailed in a penalty shoot-out, so you just know something’s stirring. They’re going to set-piece their way to glory, you can feel it in your bones.
Nope, we’re not chuckling any more.