I’d like to think that I’m a level-headed person. You know, able not to fall too easily for tabloid bluster and sugary sentiment. I’d like to think that.
Recently though, I’m starting to question the very notion of logic and sound judgement. The phenomenon feels familiar – it hits these shores every four years.
Before a ball has been kicked in anger (most likely by Jordan Henderson), I firmly believe that England will win the 2018 FIFA World Cup. I need help.
If you’d asked the average fan on the street a year ago whether England had a chance of lifting the trophy in Russia, you’d have been told, not so politely, to f*ck off and up the medication.
Despite countless reasons to the contrary, as we step ever closer to the big kick off on Monday, I really believe we can do it.
Worrying signs of delusion
In the friendly against Brazil at Wembley in November, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Neymar casually toyed with our midfield like a cackling puppeteer.
Eric Dier was so confused by the swarm of yellow shirts that night that he was not so much on the infamous Barca ‘carousel’, more sent on a lengthy acid trip at Rio Carnival. It was painful to watch.
Brazil monkeyed around with us all evening long, although the match finished a promising 0-0. And so the delusions of grandeur continued full steam ahead.
Four years ago, we were out after two matches, eventually picking up one point and finishing fourth in the group stage behind Costa Rica. But let’s not get bogged down in pesky statistics. After all, Mark Twain once said:
“Some people use statistics like a drunk man uses a lamppost; more for support than illumination”
And so it goes.
Perhaps such a disjointed view of our hopes stems from the public no longer watching England qualifying matches in the same numbers or with the same gusto as years gone by.
During international breaks, people are now more concerned with missing a week of tinkering with their fantasy football teams than cheering on their national heroes.
And who can blame them? Hell, in qualifying, we required a last-ditch goal just to snatch a late draw against Scotland.
Hit the road, Jack
In spite of the ever-increasing optimism leading into the tournament, there was an outcry from large swathes of the English public following the omission of Jack Wilshere from the final squad.
Poor old Jack hadn’t played for England since we lost to You-Know-Who at Euro 2016. He started this season in the Arsenal U-23s (being sent off in the process) after Lewis Cook kept him out of the Bournemouth side last term.
For all the man’s genius, it would be fair to argue that Wenger lacked the gonads to get rid of Wilshere when he was clearly no longer up to scratch. A loan deal was merely a cop out.
It’s another string to the bow of Gareth Southgate. He made the right call despite widespread criticism.
Those crying about Wilshere simply haven’t been paying attention. Alas, in international football, all roads lead to self-deception.
Signs of potential
But still. Still. You assess our options, and the pace of our attack looks unequalled. No other squad in world football can boast the raw speed of Vardy, Lingard, Rashford, Sterling, Alli and Loftus-Cheek. And most of them are young enough not to have been hollowed out by the ghosts of World Cups past.
Ahead of those speedy little urchins stands the best number nine striker in world football. The hurricane – a goal scorer so ruthless that only two months ago he swore on his child’s life that he’d flicked the ball with his head just to force through an appeal to the Dubious Goals Panel.
Crackers, but that’s the attitude that’ll bag the Golden Boot and fire us to World Cup glory in the process. Maybe.
Now that Southgate has shown a bit of tactical nous in converting Kyle Walker into a central defender in a back three format, you may as well start engraving Ol’ Blighty on the trophy right now.
Hope versus experience
David Baddiel once said that the reason Three Lions resonated with the public was that it echoed exactly what it means to be an England fan:
‘It’s not that we think we’re going to win, or that we’re going to lose either. It’s somewhere in between. It’s hope versus experience’
Our experience obviously shows us horrors so grave we dare not speak its name. Handballs and tears and sh*tting on the pitch and mullets and metatarsals and winkers and, of course, the Germans, on penalties.
Similar to how the will of the boxer is the final thing to go, so too is the hope of the England fan.
But don’t burden yourself with odds, statistics and sound logic, just say:
‘England will win the World Cup’
Sir Alf Ramsey said it, and for that he was labelled a pipe-dreaming loon.
Build it and they will come
Picture the statue of Sir Harry alongside Sir Bobby over at Wembley Park.
Play Three Lions, World in Motion and Vindaloo full blast and on a continuous loop between now and kick off on Monday.
Envisage the documentary of Sir Gareth in 2038 – the former boss piping on a Vype ePen12, chuckling about how nobody gave us a chance and that nice guys don’t always finish last after all.
It only sounds foolish until it’s done.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup. Maybe, just maybe.