World Cup ‘94, I was only seven. It exists in my memory as a haze and a mist, like a myth of some cthonic past, half-remembered but sensed as tangible presence.
Euro ‘96, I came of age, and I realized that there is pain in the world, terrible pain. Not just for me, but for English footballers too. ‘Three Lions’ by Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds sent shivers down by spine as I listened to the single over and over again on my CD player. What elation as I watched England destroy the Scottish and the Dutch in the group stages. Joy when Shearer scored against Germany after only a few minutes. I was eating chicken nuggets at the time. And then, oh my, oh my, oh my. I kept a diary for weeks afterwards, choosing a different German player each day and focussing all my disappointment and anger upon that particular man, rating him out of ten for how much I hated him depending on the part he had played in England’s downfall. The bitterness stays with me.
Many years have passed now, which I will not document. But I will observe that, as I have grown older, the magic has faded with each consecutive tournament. Like the way that Christmas gradually loses its lustre until it becomes another day just with more washing up, I look forward to these tournaments less and less.
Four years ago, at World Cup 2014, there was a significant moment of passion in my heart when I saw a pre-tournament video of the English players talking about how much it all meant to them, how they wanted to prove to themselves that they could do it, how they wanted to make their families proud and so on. A sense of belief welled up inside of me. More than that, I felt deeply emotional and full of conviction. I greedily logged onto my Facebook account and conveyed that enthusiasm to each of my friends who happened to check their Timeline that day. They would have felt my pride. After the first two games, we were out, and I swore never again would I give myself to this group of total incompetents.
Euro 2016, I was driving home in order to watch England vs. Iceland, deeply unimpressed by Roy Hodgson’s bizarre and capricious approach to tactics, hoping, yes hoping that England would lose this match so that he would get fired. It was quite clear to me that he was locked in a footballing sclerosis, paralyzed with fear. And then we all know what happened after that. I’ve forgiven him now though, and I’m pleased that he’s redeemed himself at Palace.
So what now? I still watch it all. I can’t turn it off, even when there is no consequence to the game and no star value, even, indeed, when I am not enjoying it and I am consciously aware of the fact that I could be doing something more valuable. Football is like a drug which I have been taking for twenty-five years: I just pipe it into my house via my TV, and I can’t bring myself to cut off the supply. I love it. I love the addiction.