It was an age of innocence that seems a long time ago now; those perfect summer days when we could take a moment every few hours to ask ourselves whether or not this has been a great World Cup, maybe even the greatest World Cup.
That halcyon time had its apotheosis last Monday night in the seconds after a red squadron stormed the breadth of Rostov-On-Don for Nacer Chadli to slot home. And we could agonise for the heartbroken Japanese without an ounce of true sorrow, knowing we had Brazil v Belgium in store.
Indeed, even as Colombia’s Mateus Uribe stepped up for his spotter, the following night, perhaps there were some among us able to take another moment to reflect on how this grand World Cup was ticking one more box in its delivery of a familiar old comedy that’s always worth another watch.
But all that talk of great World Cups has been put on hold since, because of what followed. There is only one thing that concerns us now about this World Cup: Is it coming home?
Is it coming home and do we want it to come home and if we don’t want it to come home is it because of the Black and Tans or Jimmy Hill, Lord rest him?
There are many who wouldn’t begrudge them, after all the hurt, many who certainly would, and many others instructing people they have no right to pursue this traditional ill-will, policing the one stable of all modern World Cups, whether any good or not.
And amid all this introspection and angst that has broken out, sometimes you can’t help wonder how good a World Cup could it be anyway, that this homecoming looms so realistically, that football could conceivably be brought home via a midfield of Jordan Henderson, and only Jordan Henderson.
So it has been ruined, for some, who have had to cut all ties with the World Cup, to be on the safe side, who have had to go out in the sun.
The GAA, to their credit, have responded swiftly, putting on an attractive Gaelic football match (to flirt with oxymoron) at the same time as the final. Just in case.
And Michael Flatley appears to have written, directed, and starred in a film, a kind gesture to a nation so far deprived of its gaiety in the traditional way.
But as Sweden step out blindly today into the middle of the road home, it is incumbent on us all to share our coping strategies, to look out for those among us unable to find peace at this uncertain time, who are unable to muster the concern to, in the vernacular, ‘sweat on Vardy’s groin’.
So if it helps even one struggler out there, I think it is important to point out that our neighbours are no longer the people we once knew.
They are evolving before our eyes. For one, they have been cured overnight of their fear of mime, once their greatest phobia.
During the ’80s and ’90s, the finest English minds were remorseless in their naming and shaming of anybody suspected of miming on Top of the Pops. A crusade maintained this century through a relentless pursuit of any scoundrel caught brandishing an imaginary yellow card.
Yet there was Harry Maguire against Colombia, miming furiously for VAR, after Hendo’s dramatic collapse, and yet still “embodying England’s warrior spirit” according to The Times of London.
Indeed, as Hendo, and later Maguire, illustrated enthusiastically, England’s warriors have also embraced wholeheartedly another of John Foreigner’s old ways: The going down too easily.
This subtle moral pivot has been explained by their gaffer thus: “Maybe we’re playing our game more by the rules the rest of the world are playing”.
And judging by the disquiet since about the dirty Colombians, it is no longer just John Foreigner who doesn’t like it up ’em either.
So now that the whole world is on the same page, is there truly much left to divide us?
Maybe you could even say we are all just that little bit more English than the English themselves now, or something along those lines.
And when football does come home next week, won’t they be bringing a little of us all home with it?
If that doesn’t convince everyone that there isn’t some lingering superiority complex over there, look at the efforts they are making to be nice.
In Gareth Southgate, they have an early Hugh Grant, without the jokes but dressed for at least one wedding and working overtime to make England polite again.
Sure enough, the true hero of the Colombia win was the Englishman who went viral watching the shootout on his phone on the train; praying, despairing, then celebrating emotionally but silently, so as not to disturb his fellow passengers.
Surely that is an England we can get behind. And in their unanimous acclaim for this likeable team, there seems to be some acceptance they weren’t all that likeable in the past. And OK, it might now be some of the unlikeable figures from the past who are the pundits telling us all this, so there are some inconsistencies in this scenario, but look, they are trying.
If you are still not on board, if you are just unable to contemplate the scale of immunity ‘World Cup winner Dele Alli’ will be granted next season in the Premier League, what about picturing Raheem Sterling knocking in the winner in the final and what that would do to the racists and stirrers that have been persecuting him — trying to divide them, just as they are uniting with the rest of us.
And consider too, that in these precarious times, a happy, united England might even play a part in saving the world, if not the World Cup.
Failing all that, here’s a personal visualisation technique that might be some help: Picture a brave JT, shinpads strapped on, though he didn’t play, lifting it in Moscow, perhaps with Pards dancing on the pitch below or Big Sam explaining in great detail how his blueprint came together.
See, things aren’t so bad after all.
Stairway to Heaven
Peter Collins: Always considerate of the impressive hair of panelist Keith Andrews: “I don’t want you to put on a manager’s hat, Keith, but if you were a manager how would you handle it?”
Richard Dunne: None of this “scruff of the neck” nonsense for Dunner: “There was nobody to grab the game by the balls.”
George Hamilton: Shades of his “midfield prising open an oyster to get at the fleshy meat inside” pomp in this description of ineffective Spanish attacking: “They have not had the sharp edge, like plastic airport cutlery.”
Ian Wright: “I’m feeling something, I don’t know what it is”. Ah, you couldn’t begrudge Wrighty.
Hell in a Handcart
Ger Canning: Still hasn’t called it “ground football” despite advocating use of the “panel” and insisting Belgium “need a score”.
Martin Lipton: Has been dumbing down the role of security professionals on Talksport: “Fernandinho is the locksmith. When things aren’t going well, he comes on and locks the door.”
Glenn Hoddle: No, that manoeuvre where England’s big men line up behind each other at set-pieces should not be described as a “love train”.
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