Thank you Russia for a World Cup I'm already lost without you
Posted on the 17th Jul 2018 in the category sport

Thank you Russia for the World Cup, just one thing, what do I do now?

Four weeks and three days of free-to-air international football and free of all the pre-tournament fear mongering.

There were no monkey chants, no fans being locked up for smiling before midday, no scenes of go-pro-wearing para-military Russian hooligans beating the living daylights out of fat families from Stoke and no Nuremberg style political grandstanding by Vladimir Putin. 

Just a beautiiful celebration of the beautiful game. Those first ten days were the best, three games a day, all those different fans, fascinating stories and whole new teams to learn about.

I am a lapsed football fan, the Premiership has killed my enthusiasm, it is all about the money, whichever team's owner is in control of the most fossil fuels usually wins, aspiring teams' best players are bought by the big boys and benched and you wonder how much the multi-millionaires playing really care.

But the World Cup is about countries making the best of what they have and watching a game knowing somewhere there are millions of peole watching ready to explode in ecstasy if one of their own scores a goal.

I booked the first week off work to immerse myself in this once every four years footballing heaven. I headed to Ireland to an old friend's home to watch games, drink cider and get takeaways like we did during the France 1998 World Cup at university.

Unlike 20 years ago modern technology games can be watched at work, on the bus, on catch up or on the countless televisions in bars, restaurants, pubs, rail stations, offices and wherever a screen is squeezed into.

That first week was like a Valhalah of VAR, it was something new to get our heads around, thankfully it was not as annoying as I thought it would be. The Russians, with a team as unfancied as a KGB honey pot sting needing a dose of rohipnal, scored five in their opener ensuring across nine time zones the fans would have a stake in the World Cup.

The tournament caught fire when Spain drew 3-3 with Portugal, a preening Ronaldo clinching a point with a last gasp epic freekick. There was not a 0-0 draw until the last round of group games, previous winners like Germany and Argentina were getting beaten as were talented teams without the street-smarts tournament football demands, like Peru and Morocco.

Most importantly there were goals, taps ins, screamers, revelationary goals and redemption goals, and a fair few in the last few minutes. Thankfully, the defensive safety first football of previous World Cups had been replaced with brave, sometimes stupidly so attacking football.

What fascinated me was the size of Russia, the hand over from game to game and they were in different time zones and climates, some of cities had been closed to foreigners just a generation ago.

We understand FIFA implements FIFAland on whichever country is hosting the World Cup, just like the Olympics do when they come to town, this mean a lot of liberal democracies see the small print of delegates having traffic lights changed and think piss off. But I think for those people in Russia who had never seen so many foreigners, laughed with them and realised what could be possible without repression. And I was happy for the Russians the tournament was a success.

To see France win a World Cup final with the help of VAR was sweet to see, because they were the victim of the first VAR decision in a final when it was not even legal.

Zinadine Zidane had dragged his spluttering French team into the final with tournament changing performances not seen since Maradona. In the final he scored the greatest penalty ever taken and was voted player of the tournament at half time, and then tragically was sent off.

And it was a travesty, he noticed the ref and two linesmen had turned to follow goalkick up field and planted his head in the chest of the horrible Italian calling his mother names. This winded his opponent and no-one had noticed.

But the fourth ref on the sidelines saw a TV replay of the foul and told the referee. Which is against the rules. So the greatest player of his generation was sent off illegally.

He never played again.

Zidane was a great player, one of the best of all time, if only England had one of those. We had Harry 'no tattoos with his childhood sweetheart' Kane. Who we last saw in an international tournament huffing and puffing, taking every corner and looking knackered against Iceland. 

Now he is Golden Boot Kane. Good on him for near enough winning the Golden Boot despite not having a none penalty shot on target in the knockout stages, I always wondered if hitting the post was on target or not, guess we know it's not cos our Arry hit the post against Croatia when we were on top.

That miss will get worse as the years and decades pass.

Gareth Southgate has made a nation fall in love with the national team again.

Thanks to the press; if it wasn't for Telegraph investigation exposing Big Sam drinking pints of red wine and giving vit large about selling the souls of England schoolboys in exchange for a timeshare in Malta nice guy Gareth would still be waiting in the wings to take over after an early exit playing turgid football from this or the next tournament.

Southgate had faith in youth and freed them all from the shackles of past failures, Capello was right when he said England players were scared to play in the shirt it was such a burden.

Not Gareth's team, they seemed comfortable in their three lions skin and with each other too, the fact we now praise an England team for being able to eat breakfast together instead of sitting in club cliques calling each other cunts under their breath over coffee shows how far we had fallen, as well as cementing what we knew already, the Golden Generation was a right Golden Shower.

They will get better, with the Euros 2020 semis and final at Wembley so football could actually come home.

But as for the World Cup; we were 20mins away from our first final on foreign soil. We will almost certainly never get a better chance.

Southgate's inexperience as an international manager cost England dear. Croatia were obviously having the better of us, they had more quality but we could have won or at the very least made it to penalties. His substitutions screamed of not having a plan B.

Despite all FA futureproofing money can buy, carried out by an army of psychologists, strategists, data analyists and extra 1% types, but tournament football will come down to decisions being made as the clock is running down and a tactical battle with the opposing coach, and Southgate buckled.

Harry Kane was treading water and so tired his passing went to pot. The two goals were sloppy and arguably made by individual players who were played out of position for most the tournament.

But we did brilliantly. We got to the semi-final of the fucking WORLD CUP!!!

And it was beautiful, seeing the multitude of celebrations and consequences as we went further. The St George's Crosses on roundabouts, waistcoat Wednesday, single mums crowdfunding trips to Russia, It's Coming Home memes, millions of pints drank, coke dealers revealing post penalty surges for yayo and unlucky buses becoming slow after taking a right turn into moving dance podiums in towns and cities

I heard there will not be an official welcome home, no open bus tour, as "we did not win it and the job is not finished" - which is English arrogance at best/worse. There should be a parade, let friends have an excuse to meet each other again and celebrate a remarkable achievement in the sun.

The next World Cup is in the winter, in the baking heat of the desert with 48 teams huffing and puffing, people will say our Premiership players will not be knackered pre-season, but every other decent team is packed full of Premiership players too.

Next time do we really think Italy, Holland, Germany, Spain, Argentina and Brazil will not have improved after this year's disasters? France will be stronger, hopefully the Africans will have something to shout about.

And will we have the luck of the draw again? This was our Leicester winning the Premiership chance, and we were 20 minutes and a bit of concentration of getting to the final only having to beat one dark horse, Croatia.

Football will be coming home for the next European Championships because the semi-final and final will be at Wembley, which considering its not even the best stadium in Britain let alone Europe is a result, we just need to make it to the semis. Not an easy feat.

Another way to win the World Cup is to hold it. We have a 100% record on home soil. And if we get it in 2030 Jordan Pickford could still be in goal! Obviously it will mean trusting FIFA which is the equivilent of watching a video of your ex gargling all your mates' spunk and then her asking you to sign a mortgage for a house. However, for the common good if football does come home, it will need a roof over its head. Qatar will be a bust, and America, Canada and Mexico in 2026 could make people remember how good it can be, ready for 2030 for football to come home.

So celebrate this semi-final overachievement, we will all remember where we were during the historic 2018 World Cup run, England's success will mean when images are shown of the Colombia penalty shootout, the Sweden walkover and that free kick in the semi-final our brains will have a automatic shortcut to who we were with and what we were doing.

That's what massive sporting achievements can create so we should have a chance to say thank you, if they could hold it outside the Russian embassy we could thank them too for a wonderful celebration of football.

And ask them how we win World Cup 2030.


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