You’ll have to have these largely without comment, I’m afraid. I mean we lost. We lost and the fans are thugs. We lost and the fans are thugs and Rashford and Saka got a shedload of abuse, empowered by our corrupt, inept government. The sort of government who goes to Harrods for sofa covering and Poundland for flags.
I mean it started quite well. We made it to the semi-final without conceding a goal. Early on – the day of the first group match, when the leaked lineup caused consternation (too defensive, and WHERE’S GREALISH???) – I’d tweeted suggesting that it was possible, just possible, that Gareth Southgate knew more than we gave him credit for, and that perhaps the #Southgateout abuse was premature. I received a flurry of replies, some of which were supportive, others less so, but I made a point of muting anyone who disagreed, simply because I didn’t feel qualified to argue back. Weeks later all the naysayers were suspiciously quiet, although I stopped short of turning it into a pinned tweet, simply because the final was as far as the team got, and you’d still have a bunch of people telling you that they could have done a better job than Southgate did.
So, you know. Don’t give them the inch they crave. Thank heavens we don’t get this in Doctor Who.
It was those early games that were perhaps the most hotly contested, given that we were doing…well, reasonably, against less than stellar opposition. It was more about the spectacle than the quality of football, given that the much-hyped second group match – the British derby against Scotland – was touted as the epic confrontation between two rivals, with hundreds of years of history behind it. I mean I get that the Scots hate the English, but I don’t think it works the other way round. Not really. We know that Braveheart is made up and we don’t judge you for it. And who doesn’t love a good haggis? In the end, of course, it was a goalless draw, and not a terribly interesting one to boot, with all the bloodlust and hatred north of the border conveniently shelved until the angry tweets after the semi-final, and let’s face it – we all know that’s really just a preamble for the Six Nations.
“Three Ryans on a shirt…”
The semi-final, of course, was where the controversy kicked in – with England thanks to a soft penalty, Kane bouncing in the rebound after Kaspar Schmeichel deflected the ball but failed to catch it. It was a crummy way to win and you did feel sorry for the Danes, who’d nearly reached the end under some very trying circumstances, but to be fair to them England were denied an obvious penalty earlier in the match, so it’s swings and roundabouts. “Sometimes it goes in your favour,” quoth a wise man, “and sometimes it doesn’t. And if you add them all up over the season, they balance out.” Said wise man was Alex Ferguson, who knows a thing or two about football, as well as being Scottish.
Really, the controversy in that semi-final was caused by a laser torch that appeared to be pointed at Schmeichel during the penalty in question, although it supposedly didn’t affect his performance and it was in any case impossible to tell where it was coming from.
It ended in tears, with violence and thuggery following a game played by sportsmen who’d conducted themselves with dignity: the team deserved a win, even if the fans didn’t. Could we say Italy played dirty? Perhaps.
But even if they hadn’t, there were mistakes made and some questionable tactics that I don’t really understand because my area of expertise is dramatic structure, not sport. I do know that I felt a sense of pride – not in my country, as such, but simply in the team, and the manager who’s become the best sort of role model for the young men on the pitch and the children watching at home; eloquent and considered and rational and graced with more dignity and compassion than a hundred political buffoons. I’m mindful of the fact that children my sons’ age look up to sportsmen, and for the first time in a long while that doesn’t worry me. You can lose graciously, which is kind of like winning, even if you don’t get to lift the trophy.
Still, at least we’ve got the Olympics, right? Something else they had to postpone until after lockdown.