28 Years Later

It’s been interesting to observe the H words of our national team’s advancement to the semi-finals of the Russia 2018 World Cup. The England national football team has been host of a peculiar neurosis that our collective psyche has suffered for many moons and tournaments. I do recall the last time the boys hustled their way into the semi-finals in Italia 90, and though our national team extoled all the virtues of our notion of greatness, we lost to a dogged German team in a contest of heightened drama. Tears we did sow. Sweat and a little blood too.

A new era of English football would follow on the heels of the romance that was our Italian adventure. In my head I hear Pavarotti belting his tenor of dreams through Nessun Dorma. My introduction to Opera. I can still vividly see Maradona imposing his will on an Argentine side that didn’t have enough to go all the way on paper. His presence on screen had an aura which abides with me. Its strangely Chaplinesque. I can recall the colour and polyrhythms that Roger Miller and his Cameroon brothers entertained us with. I can see the outpouring of emotion in the light of Toto Schillaci’s eyes, and the passion of his goal celebration. You know the one. The soul of Italy was summed up in that moment. He seemed to me much like the spiritual twin brother of the character, Mario Ruoppolo, in the film, il Postino.

After the trip of nostalgia I’m  always brought back to the H words. History. Hysteria. Hype. Hypocrisy. Hope. Our national game’s national team embodies all of that. All of that and much more.
In my head there is also the image of a fleet footed Des Walker. So swift and precise in the tackle. So dependable. So determined. I had never heard him speak until today. Old footage on Youtube. Old news that is new to me. I was thinking about him and realised he was the most silent of the moving images in my mind. There is a poetry about his presence in that team and yet he was the personification of England’s footballing ethos in the nochalance of fulfilling a duty. For country. For Queen. For self?

28 years later a nation once again measures its sense of self worth and identity with all the H words and sibling alphabets. Alpha but no omega. And a longing for football, their prodigal son, to return home. With such high stakes, it is more than a game. England is perpetually in search of its soul. And perhaps that is true of all nations.

 

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Usain

Last year in the same stadium where Usain ran his last individual race tonight, I watched him run a pedestrian time (by his standards) in his favoured sprint event, the 200m. Then I looked at the awe filled faces around me after he had won less emphatically than he was accustomed to. Old and young faces of various shades wore identical expressions.The after glow illuminated those same faces that perhaps had more in common with the grey of London than their sunny disposition . They had seen the fastest man in recorded history do the inevitable. Winning was never in doubt. I left the stadium with a sense of an ending. I had watched him run well enough to win another race and it couldn’t last forever. Not long after that night, he added three more gold medals to his tally of nineteen (Olympic and World championship). A flawless resume, untainted by missed or failed drug tests. It was time to go. The body knows best. But in some peculiar way, the fact that he didn’t win tonight will endear him to the world even more so than a 20th gold medal might have done. We finally got to see him face defeat in a major championship final and he handled that adversary with grace. How we lose is just as significant as how we win.

We like our superheroes to have some semblance of weakness to remind us that they do exist on the same surface of the earth that we bestride. Father time is krypton’s leveler restoring balance and the order of things. I’m glad that I am a witness to his boundary breaking efforts. He kept the sport of Track & Field Athletics alive at the worst of times and I’m sure there will be a lot of new borns named Usain in Jamaica for years to come. In defeat he remains very much a champion of a medal far more illustrious than gold. He won the hearts and minds of the people. Common folk from all walks of life. He will remain the people’s junk food loving and living champion. He leaves the track as arguably the greatest sporting phenomenon of my lifetime.