You’ve probably read a million words on England’s World Cup campaign. But I figured now is as good as any to get back into the blogging game – especially as it’s a subject I blogged about before.
I was eight in 1990, soon to be nine. It was my first World Cup, and one I will never forget. The football may not have been the best, but the way England captured the nation’s hearts was incredible.
And now, 28 years on, they’ve done it again. Back then, football and its fans were the biggest issue – we were just over a year post-Hillsborough, and hooliganism was apparently everywhere, with ID cards for all football fans on the table. Even the classic World Cup song that we still associate with that summer in Italy, World In Motion, contains the line, buried into John Barnes’ rap, “We ain’t no hooligans, this ain’t no football song”.
The brilliant One Night in Turin shows that it wasn’t all rosy, but in turbulent times at home, England’s success in Italy brought the nation together. It wasn’t to be, losing out in the last four, but it was the start of a new era – within two years the Premier League had started.
Some of that may seem very familiar now, as in turbulent times at home, England’s success in Russia has definitely brought the nation together once again. Yes, of course, some on both sides of the Brexit spectrum have tried to use it for either way, but as I like to write about sport, it’s better to look at how this team have made the nation fall in love with them.
When I last wrote about England in October 2016, it was “generally uninspiring” – those were my exact words. Obviously we went on to qualify easily, and under Gareth Southgate results had been better. But to be honest, it still wasn’t making me tune in. But when the World Cup came around, I dusted off the Italia 90 retro shirt and got into it.
And it was worth it, wasn’t it? As I’ve said previously, you can only beat what’s in front of you, and that’s what they did. I think the heightened sense of fever for this England team came because of the way they dispatched of three teams who decided they would try and wind them up. They were comfortable against Sweden too.
I never bought into the “easier route” guff, and even before the semi-final defeat, there were even some attempting to discredit the efforts because they hadn’t beat any of the traditional big teams – you know, the likes of Germany, Argentina and Brazil, none of whom made it into the last four. The thing is, these teams didn’t reach the semi-finals because they didn’t deserve to. Football is a global game now and I personally think that tournaments like this show that international football is getting more competitive, and that’s a good thing.
It wasn’t always thrilling football, and there were certainly times where several England players went missing – Kane may well win the Golden Boot, but it was a struggle for him, not least against Croatia. He gave his all but aside from not looking 100% fit, he is also playing in a different system than he does at club level. The same applies for Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling, whose harrying and hassling of opponents was invaluable – yet the campaign against him by some in the media means that he was an easy target for some, especially as he didn’t get on the scoresheet.
England’s MVP – to steal a horrid Americanism – was Kieran Trippier, superb in every game, while Harry Maguire was a revelation too.
The thing is, this is a young England team. They had us all rooting for them, and exceeded all expectations. They’ll be gutted as we all are after the semi-final loss, but I can’t see this being the last semi-final these players have.
And, of course, the success is all down to Southgate. A genuinely nice man – perhaps his niceness was a slight flaw as a player – who has done the absolute best with the resources at his disposal. I’m sure there will be times ahead where things aren’t so magic, but let’s not forget, the last time we reached a World Cup semi-final, we didn’t even qualify for the next World Cup.
Right now, on the crest of this wave, it’s hard to see that happening this time around…