On Monday evening, I watched a man in a smart shirt and trousers put his friend in a headlock while bellowing at the top of his voice. In the central London pub I was in, guttural roars filled the room; the floor shook with people jumping up and down. A few minutes later and a few hundred yards away, people – well, overwhelmingly men – flooded on to Tottenham Court Road to stop the traffic and share their emotions with drivers. They didn’t just hail them from the pavement; they stepped in front of cars until they decided each driver had witnessed enough of their ritual. This happened because Harry Kane had scored an injury time winner against Tunisia in England’s first World Cup group game. Goodness only knows what will happen if Gareth Southgate’s team beat a decent side, or if – heaven forfend – they do what is described in World Cup vernacular as ‘going deep in the tournament’.
God, I hate the England football team.
I don’t say that as a football denier, one of those people who emerges at every major tournament to complain that the documentary about tofu weaving in Angola has been postponed because of extra time in the game between Andorra and Chad. I’ve been going to football for 40 years and I’ve given far too much of my life and money to football over the years: I’ve edited a football magazine and hosted a football show on radio; I have a season ticket at QPR and when they’re not at home I sometimes go to watch non-League football; on holidays I try to catch a local team playing, even if it is extreme lower league football. I love being part of a football crowd, celebrating the intense connection brought on by extraordinary highs and crushing lows.
Nor do I say it as a rabid anti-colonialist who wants anything British brought low.