The Perennial Losers
As envisaged, following close behind the expected American World Cup defeat came the anticipated loss of the England team. But unlike the American team, whose wins and losses went largely unnoticed in their home country, England struggled to stave off defeat before the eyes of the entire nation.
Or thatís what it seemed like.
I didnít watch THE GAME, nor did my wife, and most of the people at the Crawley Folk Festival (which was where we
happened to be when THE GAME was on) didnít appear to know or care about what was transpiring on a playing pitch in Germany. The folk festival provided a few blissful hours where I felt like I was among normal people--even though some of those people were decked out in jingle bells and whacking at each other with sticks--otherwise, every waking moment was all about
What are you doing on THE DAY, where are you planning to watch THE GAME, what do you think of Englandís chances? Radio stations even had a tongue-in-cheek (I think) excuse line for people who had commitments on
THE DAY (poorly timed weddings or unexpectedly being tapped as pall bearer for your motherís funeral,
one must suppose) to help get the unfortunates get to THE GAME because thatís where God intended them to be. For
a solid month there has been nothing to watch, read, eat, drink, listen to or fornicate with that
hasnít focused on, or reminded you about, THE GAME. Conversation has become decidedly one-dimensional
and I find myself longing for a good old fashion chat about the weather.
You have to give the English credit, however, for maintaining such ebullience in the shadow of assured defeat. Itís the same sort of nationalist optimism that encouraged them to leap from the relative safety of the trenches and run head-long into machine-gun fire. Their childlike faith is so touching I had to confess to an acquaintance in the pub that I wasnít sure if I wanted England to win or lose. I didnít fancy another week of intensified football-mania if they won, but they were so eager for victory I didnít think I could
bear to see their hopes crushed so harshly. My companion waved his hand dismissively. ďDonít worry, weíre used to it.Ē
They should be. Aside from a single contest forty years ago when they beat Germany--and about which they still taunt them (ďTwo World Wars, One World Cup!Ē)--England hasnít even captured runner-up status in the quest for the coveted Cup. And theyíve never won a European Championship, either. But that doesnít stop them from stationing themselves by the millions in front of their television sets, to pray, curse, cheer and cajole while their team lurches toward inevitable defeat.
THE GAME took place on a sunny, Saturday afternoon and, after leaving the ĎNo Cupí sanctuary of the Crawley Folk Festival, my wife and I decided to stop off at one of our
favorite restaurants for dinner. We were a little concerned, as it is a popular place and
it can sometimes be difficult to get a table. We neednít have worried.
Our first clue came as we drove along the nearly empty highway, which, on your average Saturday, more closely resembles a car park than a thoroughfare. Likewise, the parking lot of the restaurant was empty of all but three caresóthe waitressís, the cookís and ours. Walking across the tarmac and entering the restaurant was reminiscent of The Twilight Zone episode where a couple found themselves mysteriously transported to a deserted town: the streets were quiet, the pub was empty and the cook and the waitress were in the kitchen. Watching
We had no trouble finding a seat and dined in solitary silence in the usually crowded restaurant. Habits die hard, however; when I ordered, the waitress asked for our table number, as if she would have trouble locating us among all those empty tables.
After our meal, we drove home over quiet roads, listening to the radio to see how
THE GAME was going. (As in the US during the World Series, even non-fans get caught up, if only out of curiosity, after a while.)
THE GAME wasnít going well at all; England ended up losing in a penalty shoot-out
after two overtime periods failed to break the 0-0 tie (which is about as anti-climatic as deciding the winner of a long and bloody war by tossing a coin).
This happened when we were about three miles from home. Almost immediately, cars appeared on the
road; by the time we entered the village, crowds of fans were in the streets, shouting and drinking and blocking traffic and generally being a bloody nuisance.
I think I know what they were angry about; now that itís all over for England, what the hell are we supposed to do with all these England flags and
red and white bunting?
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