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24th Jun 2018

World Cup Comments: With this team we can finally enjoy watching England play football

It's a funny thing, watching England without constant dread

Kyle Picknell

Something very, very strange is happening

Lick your finger. Hold it up and out towards the bright, azure sky. The sun beats down on us, on our green and pleasant pastures, on our Carling soaked retro football shirts.

Can you feel it? On the very tip of your finger? Can you feel the winds of change?

It’s coming.

For the first time in a long time, or for some, for the very first time ever, watching the English national football team is fun. It is, dare I say, pleasurable. Enjoyable. I do not feel physically sick with worry. I am sweating, but not out of sheer exasperation, nervousness, or fear.

I am sweating because I have been hugging you, my equally lubricated brothers and sisters, as we bounce around the sticky beer soaked floor that simply cannot hold us down now, as we jump around like a House of Pain chorus, basking in the equisite glow of football, of Harry Kane, of John Stones, of giving a far inferior footballing nation an absolute and unequivocal stomping as they begged for mercy.

It’s never usually like this. Hell, the Tunisia game wasn’t even like this, despite the opening 20 minutes of freeflowing attacking football that made us, for a moment, believe. And that was only a few days ago.

We went ahead, John Stones and Sir Harold Kane giving us a taste of things to come as the former drew a wonder-save with a thumping header (note – a thumping header is only one where you can actually hear the sound of thick skull on ball. This was a thumper) and the latter doing what he always does. Arrive.

And then, as is the new rule at this tournament, there was a penalty. It was the same old story, it was the England we knew and sort-of begrudgingly loved, riding into a tournament on a wave of momentum the size of Canary Wharf, only to have it all come crashing down and slowly retract towards the cold, stony sands of disappointment. Back to England, then.

We struggled on for the rest of the match after that deflated, our liquid football suddenly frozen solid, and it took a last gasp winner from Kane, arriving again to slot home by way of the only known four dimensional object in the universe – Harry Maguire’s glorious, glorious head.

It was a win the England way, not so much an emotional rollercoaster as feeling like you had just been dropped out of an aeroplane (sudden elation), with no parachute (hopeless despair) then waking up a split-second before you crash into the harsh, cruel sea beneath the White Cliffs of Dover, realising it was just a nightmare and you are actually safely tucked up in bed (relief but you no longer trust anyone and suddenly have a fear of flying. You are forced to cancel your holiday to Mallorca. Anger).

Against Panama it was… well what was it? All the years of hurt and disappointment manifested into a beautiful, retaliatory expression of exactly what this England team is about – bravery, confidence, joy – and why they are different from what has come before.

I don’t care that it was Panama and I don’t care if we crash out in the quarters like usual and this article is made redundant faster than Sam Allardyce was. For once, this was fun.

Watching a world class striker wear the armband and hunt goals like his life depends on it is fun. Watching Kieran Trippier whip in crosses like his school work experience in an ice cream van is fun. Watching Jordan Henderson scream at himself, John Stones carry the ball out with the assuredness of the most handsome man in Barnsley entering a Pop World and fucking Jesse Lingard fucking Milly Rocking after scoring a screamer were all, incredibly, fun.

We have Belgium next, a team who might not even want to win as both teams could benefit from finishing second, and then after that it starts to get serious.

Until then ignore the doubters. Get behind Raheem, get behind the team nobody was expecting much from giving us all stupid, delirious hope, and get behind Gareth, the man who missed a penalty once to keep the same old story repeating.

Yeah, maybe football isn’t coming home. Maybe this is just the first time in a long time we brought it along to the World Cup with us.