New Times,
New Thinking.

  1. The Staggers
7 July 2024

Can England get to the final playing like this?

Gareth Southgate’s squad have been poor, but that penalty shootout victory gives cause to hope.

By Hunter Davies

Since 1966, whenever a World Cup or European Championship came along, I said the same thing to my wife. “If you have anything to say to me during the next four weeks, say it to me now, pet.” Most of the times we were in our Lakeland home so when I was slumped in front of the telly she would go off and walk the fells.

By chance this summer I have been back in Lakeland, at Loweswater, where we had a holiday home for 30 years and lived each year from May to October. I am staying at the Kirkstile Inn with my partner Miranda. And while I have once again been slumped in front of the telly at the Kirkstile, she has been off round Crummock Water or up the lower slopes of Mellbreak Fell and Grasmoor. Loweswater and the Lorton Valley are utter gems which she has never visited before, coming from the Isle of Wight.

I felt guilty these last few weeks not always going with her, especially when the sun was out and the walks so tempting. But on the other hand, I would have missed cheering on little Georgia, enjoying the brilliant moments produced by France and Spain, and commiserating with Germany and Portugal. Poor old Germany, ha ha. It is always worst when you are the host country and get knocked out early doors after an apparently hopeful start. Portugal are now blaming Ronaldo for their dismissal but I don’t think he was really at fault. Instead I felt sorry for the German and Portuguese fans back home who must still be pissed off that their players performed so poorly.

But I am glad I did watch almost all the games, otherwise I might have missed spotting a sign in the crowd before the England vs Switzerland quarter-final, just as the national anthems were about to be played. A large home-made decorated placard could be seen which read: “God save the cheese.” I think it was a Swiss fan. Or it could have been an ironic little Ingerlander.

England have been helped along by a relatively easy draw, managing to avoid the Big Beasts. Every time I could not believe they would play so boringly and negatively, but they did somehow manage to progress. Gareth has been booed several times, but after the Swiss game I could sense all England fans aglow again, praising the Blessed Gareth.

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I don’t know what the semi-finals will bring, or the final, but on the whole England have been rubbish. So much negative passing sideways and backwards I could scream. As for Harry, did he play? Their performance against Switzerland was the best so far – just a notch above bloody poor.

But I think I will remember for many years to come England’s penalties in the Swiss game, all five being scored. Oh how we have suffered these last 60 years thanks to England’s appalling performance at penalties. At long last we came good. The five young players who took them showed such confidence, coolness, determination, concentration – all attributes England have rarely shown before. It was a stunning moment which I was glad I saw live, making up for all the dreary, boring, headache-inducing games that England have played so far this summer.

So I was on a high when Miranda came back from her walk to find me on my second bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. She did not ask me how England had got on, but naturally being a kindly, caring chap I asked: “How was the walk pet?” “Fantastic, absolutely fantastic…” So we were both well pleased. If England can play so badly yet still get to the semi-finals, who knows what fantastic times there are to come.

[See also: Jubilation from the French left on the streets of Paris]

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