Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Importance of Balls

I only noticed today that football's European championship, Euro 2012 as they WILL insist on calling it, is upon us and I had absolutely NO idea it had even begun. The final proof surely, if it were needed, of the death of an affair that began when I was still in school.

Kevin Keegan
Gratuitous shot of a half-naked
of Kevin Keegan
I loved football once. Passionately. At school I was a Liverpool fan because it was the 70s and in the 70s, Liverpool were THE best team by miles. I could, and still can (with a bit of umm-ing and ahh-ing), name the Liverpool squad that brought home the European Cup in 1977.

My bedroom was a homage to Kevin Keegan, I had posters, books AND I even had his chart-busting *cough* single "Head Over Heels." I grew out of that kind of idolatrous passion just about the same time Kevin Keegan moved to Hamburg, but I never lost my love of the "beautiful game."

Every World Cup and every European championship since I was a teenager I have been there, not in the actual grounds (pfft), but in front of a TV willing the team, my team, on. And there's been some corking matches, brilliant goals and scintillating players. There's been a few celebrations, some tears, some heart-in-the-mouth-moments and tears, some unforgettable moments and tears. But I kept the faith.

Every single time a tournament would begin, I would believe that, this time, maybe it would be our time. That this time, the national team of England WOULD be 11 good men and true who played with the hearts of lions to finally, victoriously, raise a trophy aloft. We've done it before (only once in the World Cup and never in the Euros) but 1966 is a bloody long time ago.

The beginning of the end of my affair with football was the 2006 World Cup in Germany. If ever there was an opportunity to win the World Cup again, it was then. All the auspices were blowing in the right direction and everything, and The Boy, my boy, was born in the spring of 2006, the first born son of a father born in the World Cup winning year of 1966. How could that not be a sign of wins to come?

I watched the matches with The Boy, three months old and entirely uninterested but the only member of the family willing, or at least not unwilling, to watch them with me. And when Portugal beat us ... on penalties AGAIN ... I wept bitter, bitter tears into his little downy head and cursed the gods of football that it should be so.

In 2008, the team completely failed to qualify for Euros. In the 2010 World Cup, England didn't even make it through the last 16 and the team were on a plane home before they managed to scuff a boot.

Football betrayed me in 2006 and since then it's been hanging around on street corners with ne'er-do-wells trying to look like, it too, isn't heartbroken. It wouldn't take much for me to forgive it really. Just to win SOMETHING, to restore some pride into a sport that has forgotten it is a sport and thinks it's more of a soap opera.

I believe we have a match on Monday. I believe it's against Portugal, the Portugal that knocked us out of the 2006 World Cup. I really don't know if I can take the rollercoaster of hope, anticipation and crushing disappointment AGAIN ....

Though, maybe, just maybe, this time ............ *sigh*

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