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England and World Cup Trophy: ‘Coming Home’?

July 8th, 2018 · No Comments · English Premier League, Football, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

England and its relationship to its soccer team has mostly been unhealthy since, say, 1966 — when England won its first and only World Cup championship.

During the 30 years that I covered international soccer, 1986 to 2015, I saw England and its team muddle through the same scenario every four years.

It was an arc of unrealistic expectations, many of them stoked by overly optimistic English journalists … followed by disappointment at a big event … which fermented into fan and media anger toward the players … followed by a search for a scapegoat or three (starting with the coach, generally) … followed by English fans/journalists vowing never again to let themselves be deluded into thinking England was anything but a fringe player on the world soccer stage … and England fans would never give a fig about them every again.

And then it would start all over again, and in four years all of England would have talked themselves around to winning it all again.

Which brings us to the current World Cup, Russia 2018, where England has advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 1990.

It’s love, albeit a highly conditional love, between Three Lions fans and their team. As it always is, when things are going well. Especially when, in perhaps the first time in soccer history, English fans may not have expected all that much from this team. Really. (Not really.)

There were the easy group stage victories over Tunisia and Panama which set pulses racing — despite the minnow quality of those two sides — and the “we can explain this away” 1-0 loss to Belgium. In which each side, already guaranteed a spot in the final 16, rested many of its regulars.

And besides, England fans would tell you, “It made sense to finish second in the group and get into the weaker bracket,” which happened to give them a good Colombia team, which England beat because Colombia’s biggest star (James Rodriguez) was too hurt to play and because England then won a shootout, only its second spot-kicks success in eight tries going back to 1990.

“The weak bracket” bit actually then began to work, giving England the earnest but talent-starved Swedes, who dutifully moved aside in a 2-0 England victory yesterday, followed up later in the day by Croatia beating Russia on penalties …

That led to thousands of Englishmen on the streets, celebrating and singing “It’s Coming Home” , now the unofficial team tune of this England side, which has yet to prove it has real quality — though the youth of several of its players allow fans to project on the current lot whatever wonderful qualities they wish.

(“It’s Coming Home” was written ahead of the 1996 European Championship, hosted by England, and the idea is that, as the cradle of soccer, it makes poetic sense for England to win the biggest trophies, despite their 50 years of failing to d0 so.)

What it all is … is England and the English setting themselves up for more disappointment and “how could you deceive me?” anger. From players towards fans because “we thought you would always love us” and from fans toward players because “we thought you were the real thing and you fooled us again!”

About 20 million Englanders watched the Three Lions match — or about 30 percent of everyone living in the country.

Coming Wednesday, England in the semis (first final four in the World Cup since 1990!), the day after France and Belgium go at it in the upper bracket.

Your rational oddsmaker will peg the winner of the latter game to be the betting favorite over the England-Croatia survivor.

As for who actually is carrying a trophy a week from now … it may as well be England, right? Because soccer fans all over the world watches the English Premier League … and because Croatia’s red-and-white-checked shirts need to be taken back to the nearest Italian restaurant.

If England somehow wins it all … the whole of the population would go nuts and party till everyone threw up (which probably, yes, would be before first light) and coach Gareth Southgate would be only the first in line for knighthood, followed by Sir Harry Kane, Sir Jordan Pickford, Sir Raheem Sterling …

An England victory would allow current generations to tell their descendants about a moment when the “masters of the game” actually were the champions of the game, too.

Winning it just the once more … that ought to do for merry old England for the next 50 years.



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