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30 August 2023

The Lionesses won’t sleep tonight

Even with the Prem to distract me, I am still anxious about how the England women’s team are coping.

By Hunter Davies

I bet they have still not recovered. It is now two weeks since it happened, but I am sure the Lionesses are still sleeping badly, having bad dreams, not wanting to meet people, trying not to talk about it – but the memory, and what might have been, will haunt them for ever. Relations and friends, the ones they imagine they let down, will always remember.

One of the many joys of being a fan is that we don’t have to go through all this. When you come home from a game, sick as a pirate, kicking the front door because once again those lumps have let you down and your team has been stuffed, within half an hour life has moved on. To other things. Such as life itself. You soon forget the pain.

[See also: It’s been a dramatic season, but its high point is still to come: Carlisle vs Stockport at Wembley]

Players who have been defeated in big games, such as a World Cup final, can’t. They are lumbered with the burden of their failure. There’s no use saying: don’t worry, pet – you got to the final, made us feel proud, happy and hopeful, cheered up the nation, and you played so well, honestly, letting in so few goals, never giving up, never abusing the ref or pretending to be injured, or rolling in agony like those pathetic men; no, really, you done good, and you did stuff China.

Millie Bright as captain did not have her best game, and at the age of 30 knows she is unlikely to appear in such a final again. So it goes. But what an experience. What a career she has had. And just imagine, Millie: if you had had a victory parade, you might well have been kissed full on the lips by Boris. Or similar. Just think what you and the nation have avoided.

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And their manager, Dame Sarina, might have been off to the US by now. I know it was madness imagining Wiegman would be a dame, if not prime minister, and the whole team would have got OBEs. Oh, we got so carried away.

I have not quite got over it myself. I was so devastated. Yes, Spain was the better team on the day, but I had persuaded myself this was it: the Lionesses would do it, a World Cup at last. So stupid. I have been persuading myself for 57 years as each World Cup approached that the signs are great, the back pages are saying this is a golden generation and goodness what new young talent we have.

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Ah well, we now have a brave new season to distract me. Surely Spurs can’t be as shite as they were last season. I looked at them trudging around, passing sideways, getting nowhere, thinking I would rather watch the Lionesses any time than those lumps. Now Harry Kane has gone to Bayern Munich and Son Heung-min is Spurs’ captain, and after three games they seem to be less lumpish, happier even.

Man City are already topping the league. Some things hardly change. Arsenal look the lumpy team now, but Brighton and Villa have quickly captured their good form of last season, while Everton have kept up their bad form. Consistent anyway. West Ham are doing well, despite losing Declan Rice.

There were so many transfers at the last moment. I haven’t taken them all in yet, and keep thinking players are playing for the wrong club. I also keep looking for familiar faces, forgetting they have gone off to Saudi Arabia to earn a million a minute. I suppose I will eventually learn how to pronounce the name of Spurs’ new manager.

What is TNT when it’s at home? Some sort of wartime chemical? I appear to have a subscription to them, to watch games. What happened to BT Sport? Gone to Saudi Arabia as well? The commentators are bang on form already, greeting every goal with “opening his account” or the “fastest goal of the season”, when the season has only just kicked off.

The nicest image so far has been a radiant Bruno Guimarães of Newcastle against Liverpool coming on to the pitch cradling his baby in his arms. A boy, apparently, seven months old, called Matteo. But why was the baby wearing giant earphones? Was his dear daddy worried that the roar of the St James’ Park crowd would ruin his hearing for ever?

It was the most exciting game so far: Liverpool, with ten men, coming back to win 2-1. For the first time I almost began to forget the Lionesses.

It is still a pleasant surprise seeing Carlisle United in League One. Oh, rapture. But oh no – they are already floating around the bottom of the table.

Still, I can’t be too concerned about CUFC. I have Millie and crew to worry about, wondering whether they are sleeping well. When a man is tired of the Lionesses, he is tired of life…

[See also: Lindi Ngwenya: “Women football agents are as cut-throat as the men”]

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This article appears in the 30 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Great Tax Con