WASHINGTON, June 7 — There’s a sense of dread starting to descend over English soccer fans as the 2012 Euros begin in Poland and Ukraine. The feeling that once again we are going to be disappointed. Surely we should be used to this by now after England’s struggles at the big events and the debacle in South Africa.
For this fan, it all goes back to when England gave up that 2-0 lead to West Germany in Mexico in 1970 and lost 3-2 in extra time in the quarterfinals. I never quite got that loss out of my system. How could life be so cruel, I wondered. I was left teary-eyed in in front of my TV in Birmingham, England. No wonder I almost took monastic orders and later fled the country.
Those of us who remember England winning the World Cup in 1966 carry that deluded dream, that one day England might again hold aloft a trophy; that the Three Lions might beat Germany on penalty kicks, or that the ghost of Bobby Moore might descend and posses John Terry and restore the sinner to a saint.
I’ve been able to deal with all those other teams I flirted with over the years. If Atherstone Town, Tamworth F.C., Hereford United, Aston Villa, Coventry City, Birmingham City, West Bromwich Albion, D.C. United or Real Madrid lost big games, I could move on. The threshold of pain was minimum - a mere flesh wound that healed quickly. But when England collapsed at a tournament it would sometimes take me days to recover.
“Get over it” my wife would say. The dog was often my only comfort. My dog listens. But alas, even dogs abandon you. Two years ago when the World Cup was TV she fled upstairs to watch the U.S. match against Algeria with the rest of my family, leaving me alone in the basement watching England scrape a win over Slovenia. I remember hearing the roar of cheers - and the barking - from above when Landon Donovan scored the goal to win the group for the U.S., while I was left to ponder England’s inevitable fate against its nemesis Germany in the round of 16.
England were so bad in South Africa that I almost gave up. Why bother, I thought. Why not just become an agnostic. Why not become a hermit and live in Tibet. But you can’t. The lure of soccer is a drug. It’s all about 1966. Once you have tasted glory, especially in those formative years, it’s hard to forget. You will always crave for more.
Back to reality.
The expectations for England at the Euros in Poland and Ukraine are pretty low. It’s not been a smooth preparation for the team. A new coach with little time to prepare. Injuries to key players. The tragic death of Jermain Defoe’s father. The whole John Terry/Rio Ferdinand fiasco.
I can’t see England beating France, even though the French back line is vulnerable. For some reason, England always has trouble against Sweden, but the team might pull off a draw. Next its the game against Ukraine. Will Wayne Rooney return after his two game suspension fresh and on fire and destroy the co-host team and send England to the last sixteen to face elimination against Spain?
Who knows, maybe Roy Hodgson, the new England coach, will prove us all wrong. I’d be happy with a quarterfinal spot. After that, it’s all a bonus.
It’s time for a new name to be written on the Euro trophy, so come on England, Ireland, Portugal and Poland, this is your moment.
So how do you deal with the pain and agony when your team loses?
For over 20 years John Haydon wrote a weekly soccer column for The Washington Times. He has covered two World Cups and written about Major League Soccer from the league’s inception in 1996.
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