For three World Cup weeks, England was able to forget what it's become
National amnesia never felt so good
The World Cup is not about football. From the human rights derby between Russia and Saudi Arabia that opened the tournament to England’s most public exit, every part of sport's headliner had a narrative wider than a game of two halves.
It started toxic. Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pictured flanking FIFA President Gianni Infantino. It ended similarly for England. But by the time 30,000 people had gathered in Hyde Park to throw beer on each other we believed it was different, we forgot what we've become.
Remember Euro 96. I can't, but I know what happened. A legend England lived by until the burning hot summer of 2018. The healing salve for a country lacerated by Margaret Thatcher. The miners, the poll tax riots. Real, visceral internal hatred. Shearer and Gascoigne unified a fractured nation.
Now things are much worse. We call each other saboteurs and treasonous. Brexit an open wound between remainers and leavers through which racists stick their heads. That sentence uses light vocabulary, it could employ the words 'remoaners' and 'Brextremists.' Everyone knows what they mean.
Then England played Tunisia. 1-1 in the 90th minute. Same old England. Big Sam, economic forecasts, 10 pints and a doner kebab. Not if Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane have a hand in it. 2-1, 90+1. Could this be different?
Panama, the spanking of Panama. Fucking hell, it's on. Could it actually come home? Strangers embraced and sang together in the street. In years past mini crosses of St George stuck out of cabs weeks before a tournament. In 2018 they were absent until that Sunday. That Sunday where the sun burned and the country reclaimed a symbol of the far right. Pride without prejudice.
— BOXPARK CROYDON (@BoxparkCroydon) July 7, 2018
We know the rest of the story and how it ended. But when Trippier scored in Wednesday's semi-final the English looked at each other and believed it was happening in their lifetime. The politics of paralysing identity forgotten, the racists, the Free Tommy scum, faded. Negative sentiment towards immigration is the lowest its been since 2011.
After extra time our country looked at the time, knowing that when the clock struck midnight we were going back to being a shithole. The dream would end. We had a ticket to the greatest party on Earth only to arrive and find the venue's shut. We woke up on Thursday to clouded sky, the end of a heatwave, Donald Trump's arrival. Someone call the pathetic fallacy.
Sir Gareth Southgate has done more to unite this country than any politician in living memory. By being empathetic, acting with a humility underpinned by the oldest redeemer - real, hard graft. It is not unreasonable to ask the same of others, of the 'successful' politicians to which he is the complete antithesis.
We might live in a time where sometimes it’s easier to be negative than positive, or to divide than to unite, but England: let’s keep this unity alive. I love you.
— Kyle Walker (@kylewalker2) July 12, 2018
What have we won? Nothing. The battlegrounds of Moscow to Croydon Boxpark, stained with more joy and less blood than ever before, grow no fruit.
Yesterday the morning carried unity, today we remembered our old selves and, that the World Cup is not about football.