So England are out of the World Cup. Football isn’t coming home. But hasn’t it been amazing, anyway?
Football is the Camilla in our marriage. It’s the sixth member of our family. Whether watching, playing or coaching, my husband loves football and the rest of us like it or tolerate it. There’s no escaping it. My husband will tell you he ‘doesn’t watch that much’, but you can always find him watching Tottenham v Swansea on a Sunday afternoon or Chelsea v West Brom on a Tuesday evening.
He also went to Wembley for every England World Cup qualifying match. So we were never going to escape the World Cup in our house.
And why would you want to? It’s just one month. One month every four years to get excited and get behind your national team.
And to watch a load of other games too. There were very few games that we missed completely. We watched or half-watched any of the evening and late afternoon games.
England’s first game, against Tunisia, was what you come to expect of England. Nail-biting. At times even a bit crap. They won 2-1, thanks to two goals from Harry Kane, but the kids were expecting something amazing.
Welcome to supporting England, kids. This is what it’s like.
But it turns out this isn’t what it’s like. Because this young team, with very few household names, turned out to be something special.
So Panama weren’t the strongest of opponents, but watching England win 6-1 was pretty amazing. England had definitely qualified for the round of 16 before the group stages were even over! You don’t expect that to happen.
Now my kids were really hooked on the World Cup. With the rest of the nation, they debated the pros and cons of England winning the group stage or coming second and having an ‘easier’ path to the final, avoiding Brazil. The final?! What is this madness?! Don’t people know that England haven’t won a World Cup knock-out game since 2006 when Cheryl was a WAG and Posh still had massive boobs?
Nobody really expected England to win their game against Belgium with a weakened side, and they didn’t. But it didn’t matter, as long as they hadn’t lost confidence, because now we were in the KNOCK-OUT STAGES.
On paper, Columbia should have been easy to beat. They were a nasty side with some dirty tactics, which the referee seemed to either not notice or not care about. England went ahead with a Harry Kane goal early in the second half, then the cruelty of a Columbia goal in the 93rd minute took the game to extra time. And then the dreaded penalties.
It was all over. We all know England CAN’T DO PENALTIES. And nobody knows it better than manager, Gareth Southgate, who famously missed a penalty against Germany in the semi-finals of Euro 96, sending England home. (Except they already were home, what with it being played in England.)
England missed one, but so did Columbia. And Jordan Pickford saved one for England too. England were through to the quarter finals 4-3 on penalties.
Gareth Southgate, who has remained calm, sensible and extremely likeable throughout the tournament, had redeemed himself for 1996. The England team were heroes.
Meanwhile, big teams were dropping like flies. Germany didn’t even make it out of the group stages. Argentina, Portugal and Spain went out in the round of 16, Brazil went out in the quarter finals. Could we dare to dream? Would football be coming home?
Nobody said Sweden in the quarter finals would be easy. But a header from Harry Maguire followed by a header from Delli Alle put England through to the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990. And, as a Leicester fan, can I just say how amazing Harry Maguire has been? Also, as a woman in her mid-40s, can I also say that it feels like 1990 was only yesterday. Except I was actually younger than my own son then. How is that even possible?!
Massive credit to my son’s school for rearranging the drama performance on Wednesday evening that nearly every kid in school was involved with. My husband had already said there’s no way he would be watching. Loads of kids would inevitably have skived, although my son and I would have reluctantly put school first.
And so we settled down in front of the TV on Wednesday evening, not daring to hope. I literally had no idea which way it would go. The thought of England being in the World Cup finals, or even winning the World Cup, was just too big a thing to get my head round.
When Kieran Trippier scored after just five minutes, it seemed too much to start hoping, but what an amazing start! There were a lot of chances in the first half, which England failed to put away. And in the second half, Croatia, who everyone claimed would be ‘tired’ from previous games going to extra time started to look like the better team. Inevitably, Croatia scored. We would be going to extra time.
There was still time to make it all OK with the fresh legs of Rashford and Vardy. With just 10 minutes of extra time to go, we’d all resigned ourselves to penalties when it happened.
The goal that destroyed England’s dreams.
We’re not going to the World Cup finals, but we can all be proud of our national team. A team without divas, a team we didn’t expect to do a lot, managed by a mild-mannered man in an M&S waistcoat, made it all the way to the World Cup semi-finals.
Maybe next time it will come home.