There are few emotional rollercoasters quite as exhilarating as being an England fan. And I say that as an Arsenal fan surviving through high-school.
The best moment for me was probably at World Cup 2010: The opening game against USA, Rustenburg, South Africa. Steven Gerrard’s opener, not four minutes into the opening game, triggered wild celebrations in my living room. I think I spilled my popcorn. Jubilant thoughts ran through my eight-year-old mind:
Could the new generation finally break the jinx?
Could this finally be our year?
Of course not.
The life of an England fan is one of ecstatic hope and crushing disappointment. Ecstatic hope and crushing disappointment. Rinse. Repeat. Within twenty minutes of Gerrard’s goal, ’keeper Robert Green committed a howler that now defines his career, allowing America’s Clint Dempsey to equalise. An insipid nil-nil draw with Algeria followed, with the players being booed by their own fans in the stadium. Millions watching back home would have joined them.
The team was to be sent back home at the round of 16 stage, thrashed 4-1 by arch-rivals Germany. Some fans forgave the team for that humiliation, sparing their ire for the referee who wrongly disallowed Frank Lampard’s first-half equaliser. This fan, meanwhile, could barely think straight, wallowing as he was in that all-consuming fog of disappointment. It’s a feeling I know all too well, yet each time it strikes fresh and just as deadly as the first time. Even burying your face in a pillow won’t help you, and believe me, I’ve tried.
Few of these disappointments have been as spectacular as England’s golden generation of twelve years ago. The pieces had seemed to fall into place: star defenders in John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, midfield powerhouses like Gerrard and Frank Lampard, a talismanic winger in David Beckham, and exciting and dynamic young strikers like Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen.
Yet the losses continued. Penalty shootout heartbreak in 2004 and 2006. An ignominious failure to qualify for Euro 2008. Penalties again at 2012. Failure to get out of the group in 2014. An exit at the hands of Iceland — Iceland! — in 2016. After a point, you don’t know whether to throw the remote at the TV, or just shrivel up behind a sofa and hide.
Before every tournament, we’re shown scenes of that ultimate national triumph: 1966, when Geoff Hirst’s hat-trick propelled Sir Bobby Moore’s Lions to World Cup glory. The sound of the commentary rings fresh in my mind, ‘they think it’s over. It is now.’ We see the usual highlights reel: Owen’s wondergoal against Argentina in 1998, that memorable 5-1 victory over Germany in 2001, Beckham’s penalty redemption at Korea 2002. Newspaper pages lavish praise on the ‘hardened warriors’ or ‘dynamic youngsters’ of the squad or the ‘pioneering tactical innovations of the manager’. Anticipation and excitement rise once more.
But to be honest, no one is expecting too much from this England side at Russia 2018. The years of embarrassing losses to minnows and unceremonious knockout exits have taken their toll. Harry Kane is perhaps the only bonafide superstar in a squad that once boasted the likes of Paul Gascoigne and Beckham. Today, this fan is playing the expectations game; we can’t possibly do any worse than the last two tournaments. Group-stage opponents Belgium are the ones worrying about the expectations of a golden generation. England have a young team with little relation to past humiliations, an inexperienced but earnest new manager sourced from the youth setup, and troublesome egos sidelined. The best I can hope for is entertaining performances from players trying their best. Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling: the ingredients are there.
So go on, England. Surely you can’t do any worse.
Updated Date: Jun 18, 2018 16:14:20 IST