It might be coming home. Word is spreading, hushed and lightly dusted with irony for now, but silently moving through the ranks of English football fans. Last night could have been better but we showed maturity and discipline to the final whistle and it’s ok. Look, we haven’t ruled ourselves out of contention with gesture of baffling self-destruction (quite) yet. The unthinkable is taking shape.
But wait. If, via a series of serendipitous events under Fifa laws, football does come home, where will it sleep? The spare room is an office/media room/gym now, there’s no space for a bed and I don’t really want it on the sofa. We’re not ready. Have we thought this through?
No. The fact is, my generation is utterly unprepared for England being good. The first tournament during which I paid more attention to the football than my sticker album was 1996. It was at home, although it didn’t technically come home, and we soared a bit before plummeting to the earth with singed feathers after running into Germany in the semi-finals. As the years passed there was less soaring and more burning, forming first an open wound – painfully ripped open every time the Three Lions collapsed in a yet another disconsolate heap of individuals unable to set aside club allegiances – then eventually a big old scar.
At first the scar was sensitive; Wayne Rooney’s metatarsal and Sol’s disallowed goal inflamed it in 2004, while in 2006 Rooney’s red card and Ronaldo’s wink generated an almost intolerably deep agony. But by the time I was sitting on my sofa on a warm, summer afternoon in 2010, watching a game that England would have won had that goal been given (Oh, VAR for that sweet pain alone I welcome your Fellaini-esque arrival to proceedings), but that Germany ultimately went on to win at a canter, I was almost inured to the dull ache. My landlord popped round at half-time to put up my rent. It didn’t make the day any worse.
Let’s not talk about 2016. We’ll concentrate on England 2018. The pacy dynamic waves of attack we’ve been dreaming of since Wayne Rooney was scoring that goal against Arsenal. Since Michael Owen’s irritating hand-rubbing celebration was confined to junior football. Hell, for some of us since Shearer won the title with Blackburn. England are already through, points secured via a nerve wracking 2-1 victory over Tunisia and a slick, mature hammering of a rugby league first eleven from Panama. Apart from a short anxiety attack during the build up to last night’s 1-0 defeat to Belgium, I’m comfortable with Colombia on Tuesday. We’re looking good. Strong. In Harry Kane we have a world class striker. In Lingard, Dele and Raheem Sterling we have a blisteringly fast attack capable of thoughtful build-up play and delivery. We’ve got Johnny “two goals” Stones in defence. It’s coming home.
We could still ruin it though. The wound is itching because the memory of the pain is still there. Colombia are quite terrifying going forward. What if we forget how to pass or score? We’re England. We’re capable of shattering under the softest touch because that’s what we always do. And as a nation we know what to do when that happens. We’ve got all the lines, the clichés, the channels into which we pour our gallons of blame. We have no frame of reference for even liking an England team. You could even say we’ve forgotten how to support England from our sofas.
All we can do is go through the motions. Shout at the telly and jump up and down, swearing at a 19-year-old man for failing to kick a ball when we couldn’t put one into a goal on an empty pitch if it had a handle. Sing the songs and get annoyed at the pundits on Twitter. Have a spasm in the garage and buy one of those car flags. Get sunburned and buy multipacks of lager you don’t drink. We might as well. Anything that happens from here on in is just speculative fiction.