Being an England fan is a life sentence of endless disappointment, extinguished hopes and sleepless nights, writes Malcolm Boughen.
We were told not to raise our expectations. We were told it couldn’t be done.
It was a young England team, inexperienced. It had too many weaknesses. There were too many better teams – even in our own group.
There was no chance of England winning the World Cup, so no need to stress about it. And yet. And yet…
Since that wonderful, terrible day in 1966 there has always been hope. If we could win it once, there was no reason why we couldn’t do it again. On our day we could beat any country in the world… if the ball ran for us…. But it never does. Year after year. But always there was hope.
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And once again that hope has been extinguished. Well, almost. And that’s the worst part.
The maths tell us it’s still possible. If Italy beat Costa Rica. If we beat Costa Rica. If Italy beat Uruguay. And if our goal difference is better.
But it’s a dangerous illusion.
It’s bit like a death in the family. Not close family. Someone like Uncle Bert – the one who used to do the magic tricks at Christmas. A likeable old chap. Always good to have around.
You didn’t wake up thinking about him – there was too much else going on in life. There was the leaking water pipe. The row you’d had with your friend. The prospect of the commute to work. The war in Iraq. The cost of petrol.
But if he was popping round, it gave you a lift. The prospect of a bit of fun to alleviate the gloom of everyday life.
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And so it is with being a football supporter. It’s not a matter of life and death – and it’s certainly not more important than that. But without it life would be that much bleaker, more monochrome.
So it becomes a passion. You do wake up thinking about it. At four o’clock this morning in my case. Seeing that header from Rooney cannon off the crossbar, wondering why Gerrard couldn’t cut out that long through ball that found Luis Suarez.
The sense of loss is palpable. There’s an empty space somewhere deep inside. Small, but still there.
Football can bring you such joy. When your team is promoted, or it wins a cup or the league. But you can’t bottle that moment. Like life, we all move on and – as Spanish fans have discovered – one year’s world champions are another year’s losers. Or another half-century’s losers in the case of England.
And as a fan you can’t actually change anything. Whatever you do, you are just a passenger, carried along on the tide of events. Taken high, brought low.
Yes, being a football fan is a form of escapism. But it’s also a life sentence. One from which, for many of us, there really is no escape.