It was the first time. Normally at a major championship Ireland are not there. So a huge amount of our spare emotional energy, that would otherwise be supporting our own team, has to go somewhere. And typically in the past it went on wishing England to be knocked out. But it was gradually feeling a bit stale to be still living our lives vicariously through England’s repeated failure. I mean, it was funny in a sitcom sort of way. England was Hyacinth Bucket, getting carried away with airs and graces and notions before the Onslow of Fate shattered its illusion and condemned it to be upside in a hedge or falling into a lake out of a pedalo.
But this was different. This England wasn’t deluded like Hyacinth. The team seemed more approachable. Of course it comprised players paid more in a year than most of us will earn in a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be likable.
The best way I can put it is that this is the first England team I would not have been dreading going on a stag with
Without doubt, I would be out of place but I think they would have been polite and tolerant. I would be gently teased for being boring and taking advantage of the night away from the children to get a few hours sleep before all the ladz came back from de klub in full bantz-mode. But I think I might have been up early for breakfast and Gareth Southgate would have been patient as I gave him advice on managing a football team based on reheated hot takes I’d heard on the RTE Panel.
It is of course no disaster that they are out either. A World Cup win would have been great for a fairly sound team and the millions of sound English people who you met that time, do you remember? They were looking for Blarney? But there’s no telling what it would have done to the more jingoistic wings of the country. The tabloids are already unbearable but they would be whipped into such a frenzy they could get away with tapping anyone’s phone or hacking into a baby monitor. The Boris Johnsonians and the Rees-Mogglodytes would have got an immeasurable boost and Brexit would be so hard, a canal would be dug along the border with Northern Ireland and filled with Sellafield juice. And they’d try to make us pay for it.
So now we can at least celebrate the lack of recrimination, the fact that they were beaten by a team who were better, led by players who were refugees from a war in childhood, a small country of four million people. Irish and English could watch the final collectively hating France. And if nothing else we can do what the Brits always do, claim Harry Kane as Irish, Harry Maguire because he sounds Irish and the rest of them because we’re all descended from someone who was a cousin of both Niall of the Nine Hostages and Genghiz Khan.
And, lest things get too chummy, there’s always Roy Keane to keep things on an even keel. In the ITV studio on Wednesday, Roy Keane was like a sort of antidote to the cuddling of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Harrington that day. He would have knocked Harry’s Taytos out of his hand if he thought the Hazmeister was getting carried away.
So flash forward to 2020: the last year of a hundred thousand companies’ strategic vision future horizon plans, but also the next Euros. The other teams have been struck down with a antimicrobial-resistant superbug and somehow Ireland and England play each other in the final in Wembley. Miggledy Higgins and Harrs in the Royal Box along with Marksy and Sabinesy. Roy Keane is still on the ITV panel despite a barring order. And afterwards whatever the result we’re all still friends. As long as England lose.