As I write this it’s the day after England’s victory over Columbia. England are now in the quarter finals of the World Cup. I can’t claim to be the world’s biggest football fan, but that match had my heart thudding as if I’d run a marathon. There was two things which made it a special game. The blatant and persistent ‘dark arts’ of Columbia and then the payoff as England went against all perceived wisdom and won a penalty shootout.
Columbia must have sat before the match and decided to try and win by being so down and dirty it would knock England off balance. Scuffing the penalty spot, head butting, a coach even in on the fun elbowing Raheem Stirling as he walked past and then pointing at him as if it was his fault. The nerve! Boo! BOOOOO! The histrionics of falling in slow motion, the constant hassling of the referee while they stalled for time and a psychological advantage. They were basically Slytherin for the first two thirds of the match. I honestly wondered if the camera would pan over to Severus Snape in the crowd smirking knowingly.
And then after all of that, after my whole life of England losing on penalty shootouts as their confidence saps, we were there again. Extra time not time enough. We’re in the script. That old tired scratchy record which ends in failure has started up. Here it comes. Here it comes.
And it didn’t happen.
As England won, I heard the street outside burst into screams of jubilation. Years of hurt lifted. Jules Rimet still gleaming. Cheating didn’t win the day, good football did. Justice did. You can’t put a price on a surge of feeling like that. For a moment our politically divided part of the British Isles was united - and all because a millionaire kicked a ball into a net with nerves of steel and a bit of self belief. It was beautiful.
It’s beautiful because nothing is written. That’s freedom. Whatever happens from here on in the tournament I’ll always remember that match, not just because it was a victory - but because it was the release of a monkey dropping off your back, of some stalking Babadook actually leaving for good. It reminded me that the future isn’t set, or inevitable. Hard work overcomes. Belief overcomes and sometimes the gods are smiling.