Over this last two weeks, I have tried very hard to avoid writing about the FIFA World Cup. As the tournament started I wrote about FIFA and the corruption of money in its ranks including a prediction for its eventual winner. For what it is worth my prediction can still happen.
Otherwise, I have been silent on football, but last night’s events, however, have caused a change in plan.
For those that don’t live in England or have absolutely no interest in Football, England won a game of football. It was a tense affair. England were in the lead and Columbia equalised 3 minutes into injury time. Extra time. Another 30 minutes and the scores are still equal. A penalty shoot-out. England missed first immediately followed by a Columbian before the English goalkeeper saved one, and we had won.
Over these last few weeks, there is a growing belief among xenophobic supporters that England may even get to the Final. Thanks to early exits of Germany and Argentina, they are now the highest ranked team in their half of the draw. I am not being a football nerd with these statistics. Every Englishman knows this because World Cup fever has gripped the country.
England didn’t win the final or even the semi-final but a match in the last 16, yet still, 24 million watched on TV; the largest audience since the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. All over the internet are pictures of fans celebrating, almost wildly. These aren’t the fans who treck around the country on a Saturday following a local team. It is everybody.
The main radio news programme, The World At One is leading on the result with a promise of the ‘lowdown on the side England next play, Sweden’. This is not a sports channel but Radio 4, the most serious of the BBC channels.
It is not that other sports haven’t had global success, but football is different. One way or another, it is the sport that all kids play. Their heroes are footballers and they have been deprived of global success. Older fathers and grandfathers tell mystical tales of 1966, the zenith of our global achievement.
As in 1966, the current success of the national side in a global tournament pulls the country together like nothing else reminding us, as another radio programme said, of the unity and togetherness of the second world war.
We are a nation that loves its sports. We invented many of the now global sports. We revelled in the Olympic Games in 2012 and this is just the same. This is nationalism at its best.
And as in 2012, again we are seeing the power of sport to unite a nation. Everything seems better. You can’t tell anyone that it is just a game. It is the English game. We invented it and it is not a coincidence that the Number 1 today in the music charts is, Three Lions – Football’s Coming Home, the 1996 anthem of the English game.
The final is on Sunday 15th and if by chance England are playing, or even win there will be a level of rejoicing and exhilaration like nothing before. There will be calls for immediate knighthoods and national holidays. But more, much, much more, the country will feel good about its self. It won’t be just good, but the country will be better than it has been for a long time.
At that point, Prime Minister May will launch an audacious bid for a hard and unyielding Brexit telling the House of Commons, to a background of MPs humming Queen’s, We are the Champions, we don’t need them, we don’t need the Europeans. We are British. We are the champions.