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Thursday 12 July 2018

It's coming home, just later than advertised

Image showing the individual England World Cup squad players in 2018
I couldn't resist going off piste from fashion to write about the extraordinary few weeks we've had, here in Blighty. Continuous sunny weather; the royal wedding, and of course The Football.

Last night England lost in the semi-finals of the World Cup, and while there were lots of tears around the island, we're all philosophical. At the start of the tournament we certainly weren't expecting our young, inexperienced team to get this far.  Married to a Spurs fan, I had heard of some of the England players, but not all of them. Who does Jesse Lingard play for? I asked, on the night we played Tunisia. Who's Stones? Who's Jordan Pickford?

I know now that the exuberant "JLingz" (Lingard) plays for Man U, and his social feed is much admired. I know now the back story on the players - how most of them fought their way through the mundane Championship with glamorous sides like MK Dons and Bradford. And I read how sales of waistcoats have gone through the roof at M&S, thanks to Gareth Southgate.

Two famous Croatians were critical of how arrogant England was about the semi-final with our "It's coming home" confidence. Goran Ivanišević and Luka Modrić thought we got above ourselves and under-estimated Croatia. But guys, you misinterpreted England's excitement, our playfulness.  How we couldn't help getting caught up in "communitas," the joy that humans find in collective experiences. We finally came to love our fooball team.

When we kept singing "It's coming home", we were referring to a silly song, the words of which speak about the agony of the England supporter over the years.  We did get carried away, but when you've suffered our sort of pain, it's understandable.  England is supposed to be the home of football but apart from the World Cup win in 1966, and a semi final place in 1990, we've had nothing to celebrate.

A telling BBC documentary, "The Impossible Job" told the story of the managers who tried to mould  successive England teams into a winning side.  At the weekend, Lady Robson, the widow of Sir Bobby, who took us to that semi final in 1990, read some of his hand written notes on leadership principles. But even Sir Bobby was pilloried by the English tabloids when his team failed to perform to expectations. Graham Taylor was famously branded a turnip, with his head superimposed on a vegetable, when he lost against the Swedes.

The nadir was two years ago when England was defeated by Iceland in the European Championships. We watched the match with lots of other Brits in the bar at the Greek hotel where we were on holiday. At the end everyone was speechless and left the bar silently.

Gareth Southgate's whole approach, while good management practice, is not rocket science. He tries to understand each player and what makes them tick.  He brought a leading psychologist on board to deal with the legacy of numerous penalty shoot out disasters. He launched his campaign by showing the young team how useless we used to be in the Olympics, compared to 2012 and 2016 when we punched massively above our weight in the medal tables.  And somehow he got the players performing as a team, managing to overlook their team rivalries,

Previous teams were filled with "stars".  The egos had landed. David Beckham unveiled a new hair style every time there was a major tournament. There were scandals off the field, involving the ghastly John Terry and Wayne Rooney to name two. On the field, they laboured, going for the long ball. Or trying to get rid of the ball as if it were an incendiary device. There was no nutmegging  (a new one I learnt about this time!), very few set pieces and very little of the fancy footwork of mercurial players like Modrić, or Sterling.

And in those days, we didn't have a captain with the stature of Harry Kane. Aged just 24, and completely composed, calm and statesmanlike, he was a towering colossus and is on track to win the "golden boot" award of the tournament.

It was wonderful to see the sportsmanship and dignity of Gareth Southgate, consoling a Colombian player who missed a penalty;  speaking to each and every one of his team and coaching staff after each match. This quiet, unassuming man often goes out of his way to help charities and worthy causes without alerting the papers in advance, or boasting about it on Twitter.

The next World Cup in four years time will no doubt see the return of teams who shockingly failed to make it to the finals - Italy and Holland - and the resurgence of teams who went home early (Germany, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina).  Even with these reinvigorated foes, the England team should be a force to be reckoned with.

The UEFA Euro 2020 championship finals are in England, so what could be a better time (and place) for football to finally come home?

In the meantime, I'll be backing Croatia on Sunday. If they're good enough to beat England.........

Sharing this post with #SaturdayShare at Not Dressed as Lamb and #WelcometotheWeekend at Claire Justine.

If you managed to get through this piece - with no photos! - you;ll be glad to know that normal service will be resumed here on Is This Mutton? on Sunday, when I'll be showing my top picks from the sale of a very special online store.


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