It's all about fuckin' now!
[unidentified England player in the tunnel ahead of the Ecuador game]
Not for all of us it isn't.
For some of us there's a bit of history here. The tragedy of 1970. Failure to qualify in 1974. And 1978. Keegan and Brooking limping home unbeaten in 1982. And then there was 1986. I can remember it as if it was yesterday. Sitting in Woody Gloldstein's living room, him with a cardboard three lions badge pinned over the star of David on the breast of his Israeli national team replica shirt whilst I partook of his of the extravagant array of knishes, blintzes and bagels he'd lent us for dinner. Maradona scores a goal as dodgy as Mrs. G's wandering eye. And don't get me started on the "hand of God" incident.
So you see, we've been through all this before - the lame opening performance, the tepid second. Defeat so nearly snatched from the jaws of victory before progress to the later stages is fitfully secured. We lived through the agonies of Italia '90 for heaven's sake - lipread Lineker's "have a word with him", wept with Gazza, peeked through our fingers at the penalty shoot-out and covered our ears to The John Barnes Rap. We're tournament hardened, primed for the disappointment that we know is still to come, as inevitable as summer rain on Wimbledon opening day.
So why do I have a sneaking feeling that this may just be England's time after all?
Things augur well from the start. That snatch of pre-match psyching up suggests that even the players would quite like to do it (although, "all about fucking now" could also be a reminder to the team of the pleasures - all those orgies, roastings and honeytraps - awaiting them after their ignominious exit from the tournament.
It gets better still. "Would you believe it?" caws Motson as if he's just opened his b'day presents and discovered an updated train timetable , "the sun's just gone in!"
It's a sign, Motty...
Better still, and perhaps this is more pertinent, Ecuador turn out to be pants. Even the time-honoured and devious ploy of having two players with identical surnames (Tenorio - Edwin and Carlos) who aren't actually related to each other, fails to weaken English resolve. Even the increasingly senile Motty isn't falling for it. "Tenorio. Spreads it wide to Tenorio - no relation," he calmy relates before letting out one of his increasingly common little mentalist-laughing-to-himself-on-the-bus chuckles.
Even the England players seem to be grasping the fact that their stars could not be better aligned. I count 11, 12, 13 passes from one white shirt to another in one passage of play. The inclusion of a player - in Michael Carrick - who sees the ball for what it is rather than as a dangerous sphere packed with explosives that must be hoofed upfield where it can detonate on the forehead of an opposition centre half (or, better still, Wayne Rooney), certainly seems to be helping.
And then, on the hour mark, Beckham strokes home a 30 yard free kick of such exquisite precision that it brings on in the scorer a Pythonesque barfing episode. (Sadly, they don't show us who he covered in vom - image rights and all that...) He certainly had a look of Simon le Bon about him post-goal, jowly, disinterested and incapable of holding the tune of even the most monotone Duran Duran song. (It was quite uncanny, actually...) A far cry from the gladiatorial figure who led the (surprisingly rousing) singing of the National Anthem. Most of the players joined in, some appearing to know many of the words. Before that, Rooney - or Wazza as the excellent German mikes allowed us to hear him being called by his team mates - and Gerrard continued England's 'lucky album cover recreation' ritual. Today it was the back cover of Bridge over Troubled Water - a bold, if ultimately appropriate choice.
Anyone seasoned in their supporting England during a world cup lore will have been awaiting the heavyweight tussle between Portugal and Holland to decide our next opponents about as keenly as they would a re-run of Rio's World Cup Wind-ups (that's the player, not the song Beckham looked like he'd just sung during the Huey incident) Even in this, the fates smiled on Sven - it must make it so much earier to check those 8 figure bank statemnents after good days at the office like today, mustn't it?...) Instead of the lesson in calm, measured progressive play, we were treated to a display that lacked only a hokey piano soundtrack and a preceding Paul Merton lecture to have fitted nicely in the comic's recent Silent Comedy series. The Russian referee (there's another sign for those of you on the da Vinci code trail to World Cup glory - Russian linesman, '66 and all that...) did his best to send off every putative England opponent, sadly managing only 4 players, of whom only 2 were Portuguese. Still not enough for the ban-hungry ITV team. Ruud Gullitt, as hysterically amused as anyone, despite seeing his fellow countrymen ousted from the main event in such comical fashion, had to remind Venables & Yorath of their manners. "How many do you want banned?" he asked - and I don't think he was being rhetorical.
As if all that weren't enough, the evening was rounded off by More 4 showing Kes. Brian Glover (Uwe Seeler - we beat him in '66. Can't be a coincidence, can it?) as the bullying (and, as a scene I'd forgotten where he uneasily appraises a pupil's love bite riddled torso suggests), possibly gay sports teacher. It's one of the finest sequences in British cinema. "Who are we today sir?" "Bobby Charlton....Denis Law's in the wash...". "I'll give you a sample of my footballing skills - a rare delight!" Inevitable failure looms - Billy Kasper executes an ineffective Truman-Capote-on-the-cover-of-The-Boy-With-the-Thorn-in-his-Side-style dive and "Tottenham Hotspurs" march on to the "Sixth Round of the FA Cup". "Lost again, sir?" one of the younger pupils pipes up. Pricless! And in the Working men's club scene, a bequiffed member of the pub band is playing a burgundy finish Gretsch Tennessean. It really does not get any better than that, does it?
So, England for the final. Lampard hatrick, anyone? I can feel it in me water.
2006 Swipe Enterprises