Wednesday 21 November 2018

The pain of other people's joy continues - Sweden v England, July 7th

I thought about wearing my Sweden shirt to the kids' school summer fayre this afternoon, but then couldn't decide whether that would be funny or childish.

In the end, it was perhaps fitting that the realities of being a 43 year old adult prevented me from turning up to the school with location-appropriate mentality. Late morning, after picking daughter up from dance class, we noticed our car exhaust was hanging a bit low, so popped in to the garage. There, I was invited to look under the hoisted car to have the problem pointed out to me in fluent mechanic. I nodded and looked serious to show that I had a decent grasp of the language, hoping that this deception would lower my chances of being ripped off. Ha! My turn to pull the wool over your eyes, mate/pal/guv!

Yet, I was left doubting my understanding of basic English when the fix time of "within the hour" turned out to be over two and a half hours. The combination of boiling heat and restlessness of our three year old ensured that the garage waiting room didn't score highly on the list of impromptu family days out. The staff apologised for the delayed delivery of the missing part, and we were told in an assured tone that "I've just given them {the suppliers}hell over the phone".

Our own hell survived for a good while longer, me taking particular annoyance over random, pre-match shouts of "Come on England!" that bellowed out through the work yard. That's right, I'm not even allowing you to express support for your/my nation.

When the car was finally ready, the VAT was taken off as a goodwill gesture, but by then, the summer fayre had been in full swing, and there was no time to change out of my t shit and into my probably musty-smelling yellow symbol of defiance. The three year old crashed out in the pushchair as we entered the school gates, which was a shame for him but did mean some of the garage costs were soon offset when I only needed to buy only two ice creams rather than three.

While the kids watched the talent show on the field, I noted the inevitable range of England shirts on display, including the away top worn by the dad of our daughter's friend, who'd passed me on his way to the pub for the Tunisia match. One chap wore a 1982 England shirt, which I don't think was an original, but nonetheless might have provided an opening for a nice chat between us, should I have been wearing mine.

Soon, the national shirt-wearers and others would be going inside the school assembly hall where the first half of the match was going to be projected. I realised that this 'big-screening' - and also the presence of a 'licenced bar' (stall selling cans of lager in buckets of ice) - led me dangerously close to the inner workings of the Enger-land zone. Fortunately for me, my kids have little interest in football (the older ones not inflicted by the football bug, despite their appearance at a 3rd Round Carabao Cup tie between a second string Arsenal team and Norwich City last season) and were merrily leaping about on an enclosed activity bouncy castle as the match kicked off.

Unfortunately for me, during the mass exodus of parents and kids from the field to inside, I still couldn't escape live commentary of  the match, as the sound of the summer fayre MC gave way to the radio. I was trapped, forced to confront live football, the anxiety smothering me like the scorching heat.

Faced with this trauma, I hoped at least to get through to half-time unscathed; the fayre was finishing  at 4pm when the second half would start, leaving me free to ignore the match at home.

Stuart Pearce, my not exactly full name sake but a hero from a previous World Cup (1990, obviously) held out some hope in his co-commentary, expressing disharmony with the England performance (finally, someone). If only their travails in the peak afternoon sun could have been met by the reliable Portugal's and Brazil's of quarter-finals old, though. England's only other match at this World Cup in these conditions was against Panama, and it seemed that Sweden had little more capacity to harm. If I had worn my Sweden shirt today, I'd have been far braver than those Tottenham fans wearing Barcelona shirts in pubs on the night of the 2006 Champions League Final.

Sterling had already fluffed a couple of opportunities by the time England  finally remembered their true path to righteousness. All three previous tournament encounters with Sweden had involved a headed goal from a cross (Beckham to Campbell in Saitama, 2002; Joe Cole to Gerrard in Cologne, 2006; Gerrard to Carroll in Kiev, 2012), and because all three games had happened in the 21st century, preparation time would have been boosted by not having to go through the arduous process of getting hold of both a VHS recorder and VHS tape. Most club and national teams are equipped with DVD machines these days, while young bucks like Gareth Southgate have even heard of You Tube, enabling him to gain a vital edge over his older, less informed rivals. Yet, for all of the technical expertise available, Southgate didn't need to study the patterns and trends of those past matches to put a plan in place.What was the point? Headed goals from crosses have been England's priority tactic from the outset. No need to waste time trawling through the archives, when you can be putting your feet up in Club Tropicana, or getting your head up for another cross.

England got their first corner of the match after half an hour, and I stood outside the sealed bouncy castle with all the trepidation that a Rory Delap throw in used to bring when Tony Pulis-era Stoke played post-Highbury Arsenal at The post-Potteries ground. Ashley Young, signed by Manchester United in 2011 when Sir Alex Ferguson finally found someone who could replace the default snarling of Paul Ince, swung in the corner so said Jim Proudfoot, and seconds later, the commentator was describing the act of the ball finding the net. This news didn't appear to sink in straightaway, as if only I'd heard it and that it needed a quick VAR-type confirmation in the assembly hall for those remaining outside. For a second or two, it was like I was listening to another radio that was slightly ahead in it's live feed, like happens when you have two big screens showing the same event, but then came the belated, horribly joyous cheers of the mixed sexes. One bloke aimed his delight in the direction of the radio, as if thanking it for the update.

So that was that, all over. Although Sweden had recovered from a goal down in each of the past tournament matches to pull level (going ahead in two of them), they no longer had the players to back up the heart. When at half-time (still 1-0, though England went close to getting another), my daughter's friends' dad joked to family and friends that "they always concede in the second half - 'we're going home, we're going home'!" - I was fully aware that he'd become a fan and shirt-wearer for this tournament alone, so couldn't be comforted by ingrained history.

By the time we walked home from the fayre, the second half was under way, and about halfway back, simultaneous sounds of impassioned cheers came flying out of living room windows. Either Piers Morgan had just announced his retirement from public life or England had scored a second. Sadly, I knew what was more likely.

Miserable was coming home.        


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