“Dad, I’m cheering for England in the World Cup!”
“Can I get an England jersey?”
“With Harry Kane’s name on it?”
Whether or not it’s coming home, make no mistake, it’s coming. Like one of those business breakfasts preparing SMEs for the prospect of Brexit, we need to ask the question: Are you ready for England winning a major tournament?
The penalty shootout win over Colombia saw England ease themselves another step through the fabled easy-side-of-the-draw at World Cup 2018, and soothe one of their greatest national neuroses to boot.
However, it has also forced us to confront the fact that everything we know about England at major tournaments — that they will fail, and it will be side-splittingly funny, and all will be well with the world — could be about to change.
For me, the child declaring that they will be supporting England at the World Cup — and that they wanted the jersey to show it — was the canary in the coalmine. This could challenge us in ways we never even considered. How will you react if they do it?
Even if the concrete certainties of international football do not crumble in the next fortnight, we will still have to deal with this sooner or later.
Last year, England won both the U20 World Cup and the U19 European Championship, suggesting that if this crop don’t do it, the next probably will.
They are also, clearly, increasingly benefitting from the Premier League’s ability to attract the world’s top managers, meaning current English internationals get to enjoy cutting-edge coaching from the likes of Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, and Jurgen Klopp.
Indeed, many have pointed out the ominous fact that the last two World Cup winners have been countries in which Guardiola was managing at the time.
Also, the evidence of the Gareth Southgate regime suggests that the English have at last embraced science in addressing their great national sporting disaster.
Southgate has engaged a battalion of sports psychologists, specialist performance coaches, visualisation techniques and all manner of up-to-the minute methods to produce Englishmen whose legs don’t go to jelly at the prospect of kicking the ball from 12 yards out at a major tournament.
Which is not to say that, were England to stumble against Sweden on Saturday, the FA would not throw it all out the window, torch Southgate’s PowerPoint presentations and bring back Big Sam, but it suggests they at least have rejected a sense of fatalism that their international failures should always be thus.
So now we must prepare ourselves for what may be coming.
Or are we ‘woke’ to the new Anglo-Irish reality, blasé about past bitterness, confident enough in ourselves to cheer our neighbours’ successes?
And will you get the kid the jersey? Will you let your child wear the Three Lions?
Until now, it’s been easy to deflect them from the error of their ways. You could nudge them towards more successful countries, or at least be reassured that England would fall arse-over-tit in such amusing fashion that no self- respecting kid would want anything to do with them.
Or you could hope that Ireland would be at least somewhere vaguely near the action when it comes to major championship time and allow them to be safely swept up in the shamrockery and self-congratulation of it all, but in the absence of both of those get-outs, you are left with the malign kernel at the heart of your own feelings for the English football team: Look, you just can’t, right? It’s England, for Christ’s sake.
This poses all sorts of questions about how much of your own prejudices you should pass on to your children. My generation had no chance: Born little more than a decade after the dark events of 1966, the presence of Jimmy Hill as a major voice of football throughout our formative years meant wishing ill upon the English was only natural.
However, things have changed. Why should kids today be encumbered with our old nationalistic hang-ups? The England they will know is different from the one we were raised with.
Our England still held the trappings of a major power; theirs is stumbling, bewildered into a sort of post-imperial dotage.
England to them is less and less resembling the one that held cruel dominion over Irish soil, and more and more the cultural progenitor of the Premier League, Nandos, and Love Island.
These kids want a Portugal jersey because of Ronaldo, so why not an England jersey because of Harry Kane?
Much of the Irish discussion around England’s current run centres on whether or not you are supporting them.
Are you a slave to the past or can you view the one-eyed jingoism of the ITV commentators with amused detachment? Did you find The Sun’s ‘Go Kane’ front page crass or cheeky?
Did the sight of a topless Ross Kemp gurning in celebration all over Twitter on Tuesday take the sheen off your positive feelings for Southgate’s boys just a wee bit?
These are all things we are having to deal with now.
It may well be that we are living in a country where there is a child out there who will wear an England shirt, Kane 9 on the back, and no-one will bat an eyelid.
Until then, though, we cling to the old ways.
“How about supporting France? France might be good? We’re going on holidays to France!”
Crisis averted, for now.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved