Naturally, what else could I possibly write about just before the biggest football event of the year? Yaaaaaaawn.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that I know the first thing about Football because it would very quickly become quite evident that I don’t.
I’m just like Jule’s mother from the film ‘Bend it Like Beckham’, played by the wonderful Juliet Stevenson.
“Right! So, don’t tell me. The offside rule is when the French mustard (long pause whilst thinking) has to be between the teriyaki sauce and the sea salt.”
But of course, that doesn’t stop me from being an absolute armchair expert, just like everyone else, when England are playing and winning and then losing.
As I write this weeks post, France have secured their place in the World Cup Final. The country that I currently consider home is in a state of sheer ‘fever-pitch’ excitement at the fact that on Sunday they may be crowned the winner of the World Cup 2018 and from what I have seen so far, it would be a very well deserved victory.
On Tuesday night we watched France vs Belgium in the first of the Semi-final matches and an exceedingly good game of football it was; skilful, entertaining, fast-paced and with plenty of action and some jolly good sportsmanship to boot.
A massive congratulations to France who were victorious with a 1-0 win and who’s defence was unparalleled.
There seemed to be twice as many blue shirts on the field as there were red ones, they were everywhere at all times and let’s be clear, the Belgian team are no slouches. They had, until this semi-final game, been unbeaten in 24 International matches for two years straight and had previously knocked out five times World Cup winners Brazil to make it to the semi-finals and their showdown with France, but on the night, the French team were absolutely unstoppable.
Last time I was actively enthusiastic about a football tournament was Euro 96 (The UEFA European Football Championship of 1996) when I took quite a fancy to David Seaman and his luscious, shiny locks with his 70’s pornstar moustache.
This was also the tournament that was responsible for that now nauseating song “Three Lions/It’s Coming Home” by Ian Broudie, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel (more on that later).
At this time in my life, I lived with an absolute football fanatic so avoiding football, like I had done up until then, was utterly impossible. It seemed that every waking moment during this tournament was entirely dedicated to the ‘beautiful game’ and the endeavours of the England team. The fact that I found David Seaman rather easy on the eye, was just my way of coping with the seemingly never-ending football. I was therefore quite surprised to find myself becoming quite animated watching the games, and before long I too was shouting at the telly, for Sheringham to “Get it in the net you twat” or for Shearer to “stop poncing about and score a goal already”.
I believe this was the last major football tournament where England actually made it to the semi-finals and effectively a repeat of the 1990 World Cup semi-final against our long-term opponents Germany.
By the end of the full ninety minutes of play in this Euro 96 semi-final, the score was 1-1. Extra time did nothing to sort out a decisive winner and it went to nail-biting penalties.
Each team scored all five of their penalties.
On to sudden death when a young Gareth Southgate’s penalty kick was saved by the German goalkeeper and England’s dreams of making it to the final were dashed as Andreas Möller’s penalty kick won Germany the semi-final who then went on to win the overall Championship beating Czech Republic in the final with a Golden Goal in extra time.
It was a long time ago. For me, several lifetimes ago in fact.
Gareth Southgate has clearly come a very long way from his devastating missed penalty of Euro 96. Twenty years later in 2016 he was appointed Manager of England’s national team and is currently leading the England squad through their first major successful football event in over two decades.
I guess those hard lessons in your early career really do sort the men from the boys.
Before that, the only other time I have ever shown any remote interest in football was when my best friend and I were in Linekers bar in Playa de Las Americas, Tenerife, 1992, trying to catch a glimpse of the man himself and possibly acquire his autograph to take home to my friends younger sister, Sam, who was madly in love with Gary Lineker at the time and fully intended on marrying him. Bless!
Little did we know that Gary Lineker had little or nothing to do with the bar, it was his brother Wayne that had launched the successful drinking hole and unsurprisingly Gary Lineker was nowhere to be seen. The bar was full of the sort of knobheads we would actively try to avoid at all costs and after a very quick scoot around the place we decided to head back to our favourite haunt, Rags, where we would repeatedly request On A Ragga Tip (SL2) and Rhythm is a Dancer (SNAP!) to be played by our friendly DJ, whilst scoring endless free drinks from the two young barmen who had taken rather a shine to us both.
Ahhhhhh, the holiday romance.
You know it’s true ‘holiday love’ (that will last precisely until you board the plane back home) when your gorgeous barman vaults over the bar to defend your honour against some mouthy Manc gobshite.
As it was, it was quite unnecessary, for by the time my tanned, 6ft Adonis (whose actual name was Simon) was at my side I had already landed a punch square on the chin of the offending little twat and he was sprawled on his back in front of all of his jeering mates.
I quite agree it doesn’t sound like very ladylike behaviour, does it?
One minute I was sat sipping my cocktail in my little black dress, dangly earrings and stiletto heels and exchanging cutting barbs with this fool and the next minute I had channelled the spirit of Rocky Balboa and landed a perfect right hook.
So, yes, not the most gracious and proper of behaviour for a young lady, but, I have to admit it was very, very bloody comical.
I should acknowledge the fact that my opponent was incredibly drunk and I clearly had the element of surprise on my side, it was certainly not due to my superior boxing skills, but as he stood back up, brushed himself off and prepared to square up to me, thankfully, my reinforcements had arrived and his friends were also quick to point out that you don’t square up to a ‘lady’, especially one that has just laid you out with one punch…. Ha ha ha.
After that we all had a drink, the hatchet was buried, we all laughed about it and it just became one of many amusing anecdotes that my friend would drag out at will.
“Do you remember that time when you punched that guy in Tenerife?”
Anyway, where was I. Oh yes, my appalling lack of knowledge of football.
Thankfully my husband also has zero interest in football generally and therefore we can both ignore it completely.
Normally, our house is a football free zone and we just carry on in our own little bubble, utterly oblivious to the disappointments of those around us but I recently convinced my husband to watch these last few games of the World Cup, especially since the French team were doing so well, in order that he would have something interesting to talk about with his French colleagues who are, of course, talking about it non stop.
His WhatsApp notification is constantly buzzing with updates from a group chat.
I instructed “You’d better watch a few games, Babe, so you know what you are talking about”
He looked at me like an unenthusiastic student who has just been set a particularly objectionable homework project.
“I’ll watch them with you,” I said supportively.
This brightened him up a little, knowing that he wouldn’t have to endure the torturous, tedious ninety-minute events on his own.
Since we have little or no interest in the sport, apart from a very casual and passing curiosity, we can happily sit and watch a game, with no idea who any of the players are and just applaud whichever team wins on the basis of their veritable merits.
“Jolly good pass that”
“Look at this chaps footwork”
“Well done that man”
“I applaud you, sir”
That is the sort of commentary that you can expect to hear on those very infrequent occasions when my husband and I sit down to watch a game of footie. No shouting, screaming or swearing at the screen. All very, very civilized.
That was until the England vs Croatia semi-final of Wednesday night!
That gift of a goal from Trippier in the first five minutes of play seemed to somehow switch on the dormant, patriotic England supporters that were obviously buried deep within us.
“Go on my Son.”
Well there was no way that chilled bottle of bubbly was going to make it to the final whistle and in any case, it wasn’t there by means of celebration, it was purely our evening tipple of choice.
POP!, went the cork. Too soon you say?
Within a few more minutes our lighthearted “jolly good show old bean” style commentary was well and truly out the window as the stereotypical football louts that had so suddenly sprung forth were now on full form with indignant outrage:
“Lovren….you dirty, dirty bastard!!!”
“Come on Ref, you w**ker. Sort it out”
“Look at him, he thinks he’s turned up to a wrestling match I reckon”
“BOOK HIM! FFS”
We entered halftime with the score still at 1-0 to England but Croatia looking the more competitive side, if not slightly dirtier.
How Dejan Lovren was not booked for his many fouls during the first half was utterly beyond belief to England fans across the globe.
The second half saw an equalizer from Croatia with a goal from Perisic in the sixty-eighth minute and full time remained at a 1-1 draw, thus the game went to extra time.
In the hundred and ninth minute, Mandzukic scored again for Croatia with a setup from Perisic to put them in the lead and that is how the scores remained when the whistle finally signalled the end of the match.
For England, it was a bitter disappointment but Croatian fans were jubilant to be through to their first ever World Cup Final
So, in short, apart from the England vs Belgium third-place playoff game this Saturday afternoon, that’s another major football championship where Englands ‘hopes have been dashed’, ‘their dreams left in tatters’ to coin just a couple of the football pundits most favourite stock phrases and clichés that are rolled out with each and every disappointment.
I have to say I was becoming mightily sick, not to mention wholly embarrassed, of hearing or reading the phrase “It’s Coming Home” as made famous by the aforementioned “Three Lions” song of 1996 and I will explain my very good reasons for this.
If my ‘five-minute’ internet research is to be upheld as factually correct, then since 1930 which is when the very first FIFA World Cup Tournament was held, we (England) have only won the Championship ONCE.
That was the historic moment in 1966 when England beat Germany, you know, the one England fans haven’t stopped banging on about ever since.
Subsequently, it has not been repeated.
So to say that “It’s Coming Home” when in actual fact, out of the 88 years of World Cup History (besides the two World Cup tournaments that were cancelled due to WWII in 1942 and 1946), it has only spent four years in the grasp of the English, I feel is a bit rich. Very rich indeed.
There have been twenty previous FIFA World Cup Championships.
Brazil has, by far, the biggest claim to “It’s Coming Home” having won the World Cup no less than five times but since they were eliminated during the quarter-finals, sadly for them, it was not to become their sixth victory. Italy and Germany have each won the World Cup four times. Uruguay and Argentina have won it twice each and finally, France, Spain and England have won the World Cup Championship just once each.
The mantra “It’s Coming Home” when used by an English football supporter, to my mind, is an outrageous and preposterous exaggeration.
Still, you can’t knock enthusiasm I guess.
So where does that leave us?
Well, there is still the third-place play-off for England and Belgium, though to my mind you are either the winner of the World Cup or you are just one of many losers.
Does anybody really give a crap about the second and third places?
On Sunday France and Croatia will meet in Moscow to play the World Cup Final for 2018.
If France wins, it would be only their second World Cup victory. For Croatia, it would be history in the making.
Either way, it is going to be an exciting and exhilarating, fast-paced match with both teams absolutely deserving their places in the final, with the possible exception of course, of Dejan Lovren. Let’s hope there is no repeat of his unimpeded dirty tactics as were heavily demonstrated in the first half of the match against England.
We live in France, so naturally, with England out of the running, we will now be rooting for the fabulous French team to go on to win the World Cup.
Having said that, since it is my husband’s fiftieth birthday next week, I have organised a trip down to Spain to celebrate such an auspicious occasion.
Myself, my husband, the ‘kids’ (aged 14, 18 and 21) and Billy-Bob-Sausages (a likely contender to be our future son-in-law) will all be travelling down to the sunny coast of Roses in Costa Brava on Sunday and whilst we should arrive in plenty of time to catch the World Cup Final from one of the many bars with a cold one in hand, for me, the real focus of the weekend and the true celebration for the week ahead is that of my wonderful husband’s Fiftieth birthday.
So, putting football firmly back to the bottom of our list of priorities, I would like to take this opportunity to wish my darling husband, a very Happy 50th birthday.
Have a wonderful time with your favourite people, in one of your favourite parts of the world. Love, love, love you, now and always xxx
To everyone else, may I wish you another wonderful weekend.
The Virtual Recluse
“We’re all off to Sunny Spain, Y Viva España,
We’ll be driving the Costa Brava plains, Y Viva España”
You may thank me for the weekend-long earworm now.