Saturday, May 27, 2006

World Cup memories

Four years ago, I worked in Cirencester during the World Cup. Here are my thoughts on the fateful day England was knocked out, written that very morning in the office... PS - I did bet on Brazilian players, and won the office fantasy league as a result!

Brazil Burst the Bubble: Some thoughts on the morning England were knocked out the World Cup.

Middle England is numb. The game is over, and up. During the match an anxious hush hung over the nation. Just about everyone in England must have been watching the game. The few people I saw outside during the game were wither old or female or both, apart from the postman who had the same lifeless expression he always carries with him on his round. Now that England are out a deadly hush had fallen over the country. After two weeks of ecstasy and expectation, the dream is over. It is impossible - even for an excitable Scotsman - not to feel anything other than depression. Occasions like this show that the concept of national consciousness is real, and visceral. Finance experts are already predicting a fall in the Footsie. Here, in Cirnecester, no-one is talking. No-one is working, either. It is difficult even to pretend. The first email I received today entered my mail box at 11.10 - that must be a record, even for a bloke with no friends, and no responsibility short of chasing letters.

The day proper began at 9.30. Walking to work drained the energy out of us. It was the same walk as any other day. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, but there was nothing for the English to smile about. Although the cars on the school run looked the same as any other day, there was a tardiness to the way in which they moved along the street. In the office, the only sound is the burring of fans – electric fans, that is. There are no excuses, and no complaints to be heard about hands of God, and freak goals from lucky Germans. The stark reality is unmentionable – through their own incompetence, England have failed to grasp their best opportunity of winning the World Cup since 1966. In 1970, an England team full of ageing stars from ’66 lost to the best team in World Cup history. That game remains as one of the great footballing encounters. The Banks save, the Moore tackle, the control of Pelè in the box before laying off for Jairzinho. Today, an English team full of wealthy young superstars failed to win against average Brazilians. Everyone knows that England failed to perform. Victory today would have left a semi-final with Turkey, or giant killing Senegal. In effect, a victory would have ensured a place in the final. But somehow, the composure that marked the last three England performances was lacking. Losing that goal in the last minute of the first half was one psychological blow too many for Sven’s men. A stronger team wouldn’t have lost the goal in the first place. It would certainly have reacted in the second half in a more positive way. As it is, there is little left to analyse, or admire. Those who were smart enough to bet on Brazilian players can look forward to some recompense. England fans and purists can only hope that the European Championships in Germany will see England’s latest crop of footballing talent fulfil its potential.

Golden Balls failed to top the Golden Jubilee with another English triumph. Perhaps the only Englishman breathing a sigh of relief is Tim Henman – he will not be the only one to bottle it on the big stage this summer.

This Scotsman has learned a lesson. In a foreign land, when all around you are losing their way and feeling distraught,you can’t remain oblivious, or cold, no matter how passionate you are about home. You have got to feel something. After all, we are all human. But the experience has confirmed my feelings: it is time to head North, back to where I belong. The place had been nicer than I imagined; the people, too, have welcomed me, and surprised me. Some of them were even quite likeable. I will miss one or two of them. But in all things, even football matches and six-month secondments to somewhere in England, God works for the good of those who love him, even those that love him just a little.


C G said...


This is great reportage - Pulitzer Prize stuff!

Great to see you this weekend. Racing through Dunn - fascinating stuff.


Jonathan said...

That's you out the Postman's Union!
Was it a shot? Was it a cross? Who cares, it was a goal.