I didn’t watch the England match against Denmark. Instead I cleaned out my fridge, watered my plants and swept the floors. Oh and bathed the dog.
And before you start shouting at me as much as you were screaming at the players on the pitch, I didn’t watch because I couldn’t bear to. It’s got nothing at all to do with not being patriotic.
Quite the reverse. And I wasn’t alone.
One friend read a book. Or tried to. Another took her knitting to the conservatory, while a die hard football fan I know opened and consumed an entire box of chocolates pretending to study the contents rather than the field of play. At least three people messaged me to say they were ironing! Anything to avoid the agony that has been our footballing destiny for so long.
At least one household I know turned off for the penalty. And another kept asking me the score because as she hadn’t watched the previous matches she didn’t want to jinx the result. We did all this not because we didn’t care, but because we cared too much.
Not that I didn’t know exactly what was going on. My husband’s armchair commentary kept me completely in touch. As did the screams and groans from my neighbour’s open window.
It was amazingly awful, terrifyingly brilliant, shockingly real and yet frighteningly surreal. Above all Wednesday night provided us with a shared, collective experience that didn’t include the word “Covid”. And boy did we need it. Forget 55 years of hurt. Fifteen months of hurt was almost, I say almost, forgotten for a couple of hours.
At last it seemed that life, life which has been so sterile, so controlled, so downright bloomin’ awful, had begun again. Only this time it wasn’t life as we know it because this time we won!
And whether you are a football fan or not that made it more than just a game.
Of course it wasn’t life or death, we are not stupid and we have suffered too much of that for real during the pandemic. What it was, though, was a damn good reason to celebrate. And that should be enough for everyone. So if you didn’t care whether we won or not, and if you don’t care what happens tomorrow I suggest you stop reading now. This column is not for you. It is for everyone of us who breathed a collective sigh of relief (unless like me you were still hyperventilating) not just at the result, but because at last we have something to cheer about as a nation, a nation which has been through so much.
And it was emotional. From the moment I heard the band of the Coldstream Guards playing Three Lions in Prince Charles’ back garden, to the crowd lucky enough to be there singing Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline before the match, I knew why it was important. Because we damn well deserved it. We deserved to feel positive about something, at last.
I do not care that there has been wall to wall coverage of football on TV. Better than wall to wall coverage of Covid. And to those who railed against the commentators going into extra time who said “the next 30 minutes will change your life,” well yes, it did. For a short time at least. Because for the first time in ages I went to bed unable to sleep because I was excited about something and looking forward to the future. Well, to tomorrow night at least.
Just the matter of the final now. And doesn’t that sound strange? And pretty fabulous, too. I am not one of those who say it doesn’t matter whether we beat Italy. It does. No point in being British about these things (oops, sorry Scotland, Wales and Ireland). I want us to win. I want a whole new generation to be able to say they were there, whether they were actually there or simply hiding behind the sofa. Just like the generation who were there in ’66. I want these lads to be as famous as Bobby, Nobby and Gordon et al. Because they deserve it. So killjoys beware. The vast majority of us are having nothing to do with your negativity and nothing you can do, or say, can dampen our enthusiasm or indeed calm our nerves for tomorrow night.
Do I think we will win? I don’t know. We can. I think Italy are a good side but I think Gareth and his boys have the belief and the staying power to get the job done. And I, for one, am leaving nothing to chance. My husband and I will watch it together by ourselves again in the same seats with the same amount of apprehension.
It is highly unlikely I will stay in my seat for more than the first few minutes. I will keep shouting at him to confirm the score. He will shout back at me to come and watch it instead of interrupting his concentration. I have already bought the cleaning products rather than the champagne. He will watch every second before, during and after. I will watch about five minutes in total. My puppy no doubt will be as equally confused as he was on Wednesday night. But as sporting events go they don’t get much bigger than this. And you tell me another sport that can better unite a nation who at last dare to dream.
In the meantime if you don’t care then I am sorry for you. I for one wouldn’t miss it for the world. Or rather I will miss it because I won’t be able to watch. In the meantime I
hardly dare believe it’s finally going to happen. And in doing so put aside the traumas of the past. But particularly some of the traumas of the past year and a half.
Just one question, and it is an important one. What will we sing about if and when it finally does come home? Oh well, let’s worry about that on Monday. In the meantime let the Lions roar. I have a house to clean.