England expects: Can this sporting summer really include World Cup glory?
The strange thing about sport is there are some events that are so big, they enter the UK consciousness for everyone, even the non-sports fans. Twice in recent years, the country has ground to a halt as Andy Murray won Wimbledon, the even that we love so much but are so bad at. Similarly, in 2005, that first Ashes win against Australia in so many years had everyone talking about cricket and made national heroes of Flintoff, Pietersen, Hoggard and the rest.
But football – ah, the World Cup with its flags on cars, the packed pubs and the heart-stopping moments of that inevitable penalty shootout. Office managers open up the boardroom and put the game on the big screen, while even at Wimbledon, Lords and Ascot, “football zones” have been set up in acknowledgement that this weekend, theirs is not the top sporting event on the nation’s mind.
Even on the days when there are no games taking place and the world returns to relative normality to focus on tennis or cricket, football has a draw on us. It is like a constant toothache, and try as we might, we just can’t ignore it.
Is football coming home?
The Three Lions song has become England’s definitive football anthem, so much so that it’s hard to believe it was 22 years ago that it hit the charts in preparation for Euro 96. Nevertheless, the “30 years of hurt” since England’s last World Cup win have now become 52 years. But thanks more to the succession of shocks that have been thrown up in this World Cup than any great heroics of their own, England go into the final rounds of Russia 2018 with a better chance than they have had in years.
As Baddiel and Skinner put it in the opening lines of that famous song, “we’re so sure that England’s gonna throw it away, gonna blow it again….” But that never stops us dreaming. Back in 1996, the dream ended with Gareth Southgate missing a penalty. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful type of symmetry if 22 years later, England could finally bring football home under his leadership?
20 years of underachieving
The years since Baddiel and Skinner have seen some memorable World Cup moments. Let’s have a quick recap and see just how close they have really come to bringing football home.
In France ’98, Beckham went from hero to zero. He was sent off, somewhat harshly, in the knockout game against Argentina. This was an ill-tempered affair and the Falklands Conflict was still recent history. England lost on penalties and failed to make the quarters.
2002 was the wonderful event hosted by Japan and South Korea. England went a step further, beating Denmark in the round of 16, but were unlucky to run up against mighty Brazil in the quarterfinals. England lost 2-1 and Brazil went on to win the tournament.
Germany 2006 saw England again reach the quarterfinals. The encounter with Portugal went down to penalties, and Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo set a World Cup record by saving three in succession to knock England out.
In 2010, the roadshow moved on to South Africa and was an event England would rather forget. They struggled from the outset and finished second to the USA in the group. That meant a tough second-round game against Germany, who bundled them out.
And so to 2014, when things went from bad to worse. The campaign never really got started, and England lost to Italy and Uruguay, to be eliminated at the group stage.
A new England
Whatever happens from here, this will go down in history as a World Cup to remember. And while England remains involved, even the non-sporting fans just won’t be able to stop themselves from watching.
The editorial unit