A few days ago I woke up in a cold sweat at about 4am. I had had a nightmare but this one was different from my usual stream of sleep traumas. In this terrifying episode, England had won the World Cup.
I have covered every single game at this year’s World Cup in Qatar for work and for those with any inclination towards the England football team failing, I have some bad news, Gareth Southgate’s men have a genuine chance at being crowned world champions in Lusail Stadium on December 18th. They are growing into this tournament after sweeping Senegal aside 3–0 in the round of 16 following on from demolitions of Wales and Iran in the group stages.
In Jude Bellingham they have the most exciting midfield prospect I have ever seen in world football. I’m making a bold prediction here but I believe the 19 year old star will go down as England’s greatest ever player when the curtain eventually falls on his career. With Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and captain Harry Kane to name but a few, their attacking options are outrageous with only Brazil beating them in terms of depth at this tournament.
The Three Lions may fall short based on their defensive frailties against stronger opposition but this tournament has been unpredictable for the most part and they really could put an end to 56 years of hurt as Baddiel and Skinner would put it.
So why is this nightmare inducing? Putting aside all of the obvious stuff like being Irish (and a season ticket holder at Lansdowne), living in London (it’s bad enough during poppy season, imagine they won something!) and the fact that I never want a rival (be it geographical or in terms of success) to do well in football, I was delighted when Wales failed miserably at this tournament and when Scotland did the same at Euro 2020 and in my opinion, anyone who says we should support our neighbours and be mature is a wet wipe but again, to leave that aside, I have discovered a deeper meaning to it all.
Over the last few years, I have gone through a lot. Depression, the break up of a 6 year relationship, the loss of and not grieving for my beloved (football obsessed) granny, being diagnosed with ADHD and PTSD as well as dealing with some other life altering traumatic circumstances and now I realise that one of the constants in my life has not only been the inconsistency of the Irish team but the consistency of England reaching the latter stages of major tournaments and ultimately failing bring national relief and glee at home. As it turns out, I can’t live without the English.
Ireland have qualified for just 4 major tournaments in my lifetime and given me some of the greatest moments imaginable on those journeys but England have reached 14 tournaments in the same period and having a cause to follow (in this case, England losing) has made those times just as memorable. Major international tournaments tend to transcend sport and become events that sway the national mood, Ireland found self-belief in Italia 90 whilst England turned a corner by moving away from hooliganism and Thatcherism in the same tournament.
I can tell you where I watched Brady score vs Italy (in the stand in Lille and being lifted about 5 rows back), where I was when Keane scored against Germany (in school with all of my class aged 10) but I also remember watching England lose on penalties in France 98 with my dad, I remember Phil Neville fucking up and allowing Romania to knock the old enemy out in Euro 2000 before my entire family consoling an English work friend of my dads who had joined us to watch…and then all of us breaking down in laughter once he had left.
I watched Ronaldinho lob it over Seaman in that glorious summer of 2002 before going to school, I recall seeing Portugal beat England on penalties in 2004 and 2006 with my granddad who passed away a few years ago and those are great memories. I watched Germany hammer England in 2010 and the absolute delight we all took at Lampard’s over the line “goal” at a friend’s 18th.
I watched the 2012 and 2014 failures in an old friend’s house with her family and the collective joy we all felt was palpable before watching the 2016 Iceland debacle with my old housemate, The Green Machine’s own Nick Menezes, having just returned from France myself after our own Euro 2016 adventure.
We also thankfully watched the Croatians end the dream in Russia together before having a few cans and switching on Love Island before finally in July 2021 I watched the Italians do the business in the most dramatic way possible with my ex-girlfriend in our London flat in what was a rare bright moment of a depression-heavy summer.
Now we’re here in December 2022 and England are threatening to upend my life once again by actually winning something! Do you remember the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon prior to Scotland’s Andy Murray winning in 2013? It was fantastic and so much of it was fuelled by the pain of not having a men’s championship winner for 70-something years and it has somewhat lost its charm because Murray had to go and win it twice, the prick!
I fear the BBC and ITV losing the comforting cycle of “we’re terrible/star player is injured/the manager hasn’t a clue” to “we’ve won a few games and its coming home” before we reach the crescendo of “we have ultimately failed again and the non-stop crisis rolls on” should England win this year’s World Cup and I don’t know if I’m ready for that.
Perhaps this is a sign of my age and reaching that point in life where it really hits home that nothing will stay the same forever and you have to just ride the wave but to paraphrase Lemar; “if there’s any justice in the world, England will lose and I will be able to hold on to one of the constants in my life”.
Brían Doyle, The Green Machíne Podcast