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.