The Memories Are Coming Home

Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

Well that was quite a day, and quite a match. England’s game against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup will be one that I remember for a long time. I know this because it is one of a series of England games that I have remembered over the years, but these have mostly been for less joyous reasons.

Let’s face it, supporting England has not been a very rewarding occupation over recent decades. When, in 1996, the song ‘Three Lions’ came out it talked of “30 years of hurt”; little did I think at the time how this would actually herald a steady decline in the team’s fortunes rather than the end of that process. So here we are, now 52 years of hurt, but, actually, that has not stopped me dreaming.

Once again, though, that dream threatened to turn into a nightmare last night as the game unfolded… But this is not a match report, rather about how I reacted to the games and what was going on for me at the time. The context, however, is important. For all its faults, and I accept there are many, I love the World Cup. I love the idea of people from different parts of the planet getting together to watch games and celebrate together. I love the drama, of which there has been a great deal this year and, most of all, I love the emotion.

Having said that for most of the game last night there was plenty of emotion but not much enjoyment. As the tension built up it was not just this match I was drawing on but different performances over the years since that very early Bryan Robson goal against France in 1982 (I remember 1974 & 1978 but England did not qualify for these tournaments). Since then there have been the highs of 1990, and a few other odd wins; but mostly it has been disappointment and frustration.

What’s amazing though is that I remember them all so clearly. On my parents’ sofa for that France game in 1982, and there again for Maradona’s ‘hand of god’ in 1986. In my student room for Platt’s winning goal against Belgium in 1990, and then watching the semi-final penalty defeat to Germany with my landlady. The joy and eventual pain of another semi-final exit in the 1996 Euros when we really thought football was coming home with a series of amazing nights in a pub in Leeds. Then onto 1998 and another penalty defeat, this time to Argentina, in a pub in Birmingham.

The new millennium brought hope but little else as watching Ronaldinho’s freak goal against Seaman in the square named after that temporal event saw us crash out in 2002, again in Leeds. Then in 2006 literally hiding behind a friend’s sofa for another penalty shoot out defeat to Portugal. From there it just went more down hill with the 4-1 drubbing by Germany in my lounge in Pudsey and, well, never even getting going in 2014… that one was forgettable.

So what’s the point of listing all these? Well, with the exception of 2014, I have really vivid memories of these games, and also growing sense of emotion and frustration as time has progressed; mostly going out in tight games time after time… a cycle of hope followed by disappointment. What was particularly surprising to me, however, was how much watching the games affected me. The picture at the bottom of this post is my heart rate as measured by my Fitbit, the yellow peaks were my exercise in the morning and watching the game in the evening; the biggest peak being when England scored and I totally lost it for a moment. Then it just continues to rise as the match moved into penalties. Here, more than at any other time, I felt the previous penalty defeats passing through my mind with increasing vividness. I felt restless and could hardly sit down to watch. Then at the end the sheer relief and joy just flooded over me and I just want to savour the moment for as long as possible before that feeling started to subside and I glided back into the realm of the mundane.

The question I have been mulling over today is: Is this good for me?

In terms of the themes of this blog watching these games definitely represents something of a diversion from the norm. I am tense, stressed; but also excited and strangely exhilarated. It is like entering some sort of other realm as the drama unfolds in front of me. I am not in control of the situation, and it is highly unpredictable. In short it is something that is weirdly separated from everyday experience. It is unsettling in one sense, but in another way it is oddly cleansing. I feel fresher this morning for the experience, as if some sort of psychologically exfoliating wave has crashed over me. I feel calm, happy and content.

This leaves me with more questions than answers at this stage:

Is it good to lose control once in a while?

Is the release that such an evening brings good for my mental health?

In addition I would suggest that none of this peak experience would have happened to anywhere near the same extent had I not endured the lack of success of previous tournaments, and felt the negative emotions of those events. This has really built up over time as each early exit has lead to another layer of frustration, another four years of hurt. Again this has never stopped me dreaming on one level, but on another the hope seems to have become more opaque; the belief further away; and the desire for England to do well just that little bit more desperate.

Yesterday’s result peeled back a layer of those negative deposits and I do not think that the quarter final will be quite as stressful even if the game went the same way. Somehow a bubble burst with that final penalty against Colombia, a bubble that I hope will not be reflating again anytime soon. I hope, now, that I can go on to enjoy England in the World Cup that little bit more, and with more hope and belief; in a slightly more balanced manner if you like. Whether that will be the case is anyone’s guess at this stage; but what I am sure about is that I will look back remember this time as I add it to the many memories and experiences that go to make up who I am.

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