Monday, 25 June 2012

The pain of watching England play football

I didn’t watch the football last night. It was film club at my local cinema and they were showing the French film Le Havre for one night. Walking to the cinema I felt pangs of guilt as I walked past England flags draped outside windows. I had to jump out of the road as a car sped round the corner driven by a bloke wearing an England shirt in a hurry to get to the pub to see the game.

I hardly watch football but I can tell you where I was for all the major tournaments. I’ve watched from home, pubs, in Germany and even music festivals and there is always something to cheer about, but it always ends in disappointment.

Euro ’96 stands out in my memory as it was a magical time in my life. I had the most amazing girlfriend (who is now my wife), the sun actually shone in the summer and England got behind its football team on home soil and took back ownership of the national flag from the racists.

We were all singing ‘Three lions’ and really thinking that maybe, just maybe, the’ thirty years of hurt’ without winning a major competition may soon be over. Of course it all ended in a penalty shoot out against those pesky Germans. I’ll never forget the despondency of the next day. The cosmopolitan city of Cambridge where students of all nationalities mix together was dead, weighed down with dejected faces and heavy feet.

Since then the games always seem to be blighted by poor referee decisions or key players being sent off (usually helped by impressive play acting by the opposition).

Then in the 2006 World Cup I watched England being knocked out in the quarter finals by Portugal at a music festival in Scotland surrounded by hostile Scots who were cheering Portugal. As the Scottish jubilation threatened to turn violent around us I realised that the magic of watching England play had truly gone.

In Euro 2012 it was always obvious that England did not have the star power to win the trophy. This is why I saved myself the experience and went to the cinema instead. I’m glad I did. The film Le Havre is beautiful, heart-warming and poignant - a tale of a poor shoe-shiner who has nothing except abundant charm and the love he has for his wife. However, his wife is dying of cancer and he risks everything to try and help a young African refugee escape from Le Havre to London.

I left the cinema full of the experience that only a truly great film gives you and get home to discover it’s still 0-0 and they are just about to start extra time. Stupidly I watched it and went to bed tense and irritable as England lost a game on penalties again.

The worst part is that the value of the England players on the pitch runs into tens, maybe hundreds of millions of pounds. It seems a lot of money for a team who can’t even pass the ball to each other to stop the opposition getting it. By comparison, the film Le Havre was low budget and exquisite.

At least I don’t have to watch England struggle against Germany.

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