I thought I’d feel absolutely devastated after England Crashed out of the World Cup. Admittedly I felt a bit deflated and blue, but I didn’t feel devastation to the gut wrenching level I’d predicted. That’s because a whole lot of hope was buoying me up.
While I felt a certain amount of grief for what might have been – the glory that would have lifted the nation for the rest of the summer – the majority of my feelings were redirected to a place of pride.
These boys and their manager had brought us so much more than just sport. They unified us and gave us something to cheer on…together. Even my friends who are usually dismissive if not completely disinterested in football, found themselves giving a damn. Their individual and personal stories inspired us to dream. The approach to creating this close-knit team of brothers was both refreshing and heartwarming. Manager Gareth provided a beautiful story of redemption, while showcasing such a positive of example of masculinity.
Us Brits are known, even celebrated for, self deprecation and modesty. We’re often understated to the point of apologetic. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing I hate more than arrogance, but it felt so empowering as a Brit to watch a team who were confident, but who were also happy to show they were.
They managed to instil confidence, while keeping it classy – a rare and difficult balance to strike. In their pre and post match talks to the media, they weren’t afraid to talk about the strengths of the team, what they did right, while intelligently recognising what they can work on. Their obvious spirit and poise gave the nation a belief and pride that we haven’t felt in years when tuning into international tournaments. I loved seeing Pickford scream till his face when pink and the tendons on his neck flexed. I loved how regularly they felt prepared/safe to pass back to the keeper, even with an ferocious attacker sprinting their way. I got a kick out of how some ballsy on pitch communication lead to some perfectly executed set pieces and amazing free kicks. I enjoyed seeing how together they seemed to know when they needed to ensure 5 minutes of calm passing when things started to get a bit tense and hectic. I adored seeing so many defenders going in for daring headers.
I also want to mention the impressive way they carried themselves on the pitch. This World Cup has to be one of the dirtiest displays of football we’ve seen in a while, with many teams looking as if they were taking part in UFC matches rather than football, with VAR not yet being utilised in the fairest or most thorough way yet. Despite the constant cuddles Kane had to put up with in the box. The obvious penalty shot marker scuffling. The amount of raised boots and foot stamping that went on. On the whole the boys kept their cool throughout. Of course they’re only human and a few times you saw some easily decipherable swear words mouthed, and some brief squaring up, but considering how much they were facing each match, I was so impressed with how these young guys controlled themselves and rose above it. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have kept my cool as well, and I consider myself reasonably chilled.
I liked their display of ego too. I think we tend to think of the word ego in a negative sense – its mostly used to talk about people who appear to think a bit too much of themselves. But on the pitch I saw some displays of healthy levels of ego. The fact that we know that despite the fact that Kane was the guy wearing the prestigious captain armband, he had about 5 others in the team that were given the role to lead, guide, invigorate and pep alongside him, says a lot about their ethos. It really was a team effort, not about one star. It felt like there were a few big brother/mentor figures on the pitch keeping up the morale and continuing the good work of Gareth and his training team when their sideline advice couldn’t quite reach them.
The trophy may be out of the question, but as a nation I feel like we have won something far more valuable and glistening. We have remembered how to dream, and that sometimes the unlikely or unfathomable can happen. We have remembered how enriching it can be to unite in joy and stress and sadness with fellow humans. We have also had a much needed distraction from what has become for many of us a very stressful daily life.
I touched upon the masculinity aspect earlier but this is a very important thing to take note of. With this run of televised matches we saw the likes of Rashford break down in tears after at least two matches, one that was won, one that was lost – the perfect reminder that it’s okay to be a male and show public emotion, whether it be a display of joy/relief or sadness. It’s beautiful, and human, to show you care so much about something. We’ve seen Kyle Walker eloquently mirror the mood of the nation via his sensitively worded tweets. We also saw a fatherly Southgate go and hug every single member of the team after each match, grabbing their faces and the back of their heads in an intimate way that only trusted and close relationships would allow. We also know that he encouraged the team to share their fears, anxieties, and the pivotal moments that shaped their lives, in an effort to build this team that knew and understood each other on a level deeper than sportsmanship. Talking of sportsmanship, there were regular occasions when I saw the players apologise for tackles they’d been penalised for, even when the ref had made bad decisions and the opposing player had been putting on their best performance. We even saw Gareth comfort the Columbian player who missed the penalty.
Moving forward we have to use this heady reminder of the power of sport too. Sure at school many of us have examples of when sport made us feel left out or inferior, picking teams was never a fun process, nor was coming last at sports day. But there is a sport for everyone, and schools need to help each and every kid find out what their thing is. They don’t have to see it as a competitive thing, it could be something that relieves stress, allows them to have fun with classmates, or learn new life skills. It can teach so many valuable lessons that can leave you empowered and equipped in later life, so its importance should never be diminished. So whether it’s learning how to take knock-backs and losses, working alongside people you do and don’t get on with, learning when to take the glory or give it someone else, or knowing how to do impressive tricks – there’s something we can all gain. I hope this World Cup and the hype around it will lead to much more money being invested in sport, and extra curricular activities, in turn boosting the nations future in sporting events and a long lasting feeling of prowess and pride in this sector. I also hope young kids and youths watching will feel inspired to think they too could be part of an amazing sporting story in the future. Seeing a team filled with guys of some varying backgrounds and upbringings, all in the spotlight and making their country proud, can only be a good observation for the disenfranchised.
So while I wish we could all be cheering on England in the final, I am so very excited about the future of the England football team. This young team isn’t even ripe yet, and they managed to unnerve some of the World greatest players and teams. They and we have a hell of a lot to look forward to, and while I don’t want to wish away the years I can’t wait to the Euro’s and the next World Cup. And I love that it will be watching a team that will constantly prove that strength and sensitivity aren’t mutually exclusive.
The trophy didn’t come home, but many important things did.
Outfit – Photos: Derek Bremner
I know it’s a very loose connection, but I thought the red dress and the blue background could kinda link to the football team colours. Apparently we have more success in the red strip too.
This dress is a new purchase from Primark – remind me to wear nude underwear next time. It’s a lovely long sleeve tea dress style, with buttons all the way down. The bag is an a few years old purchases from Primark and a festival staple for me. I put a Primark bandana scarf round it, just to give it an extra something something.
The studded boots are old ones from Topshop that I’ve gotten back out as I’m loving that western trend thats returned this summer.