What are we all going to do now eh? For just over a month, partnered with wall-to-wall sunshine and an entire country infatuated with Love Island – it really did seem like this would be one of *those* Summers, you get to talk about for decades… 1966, 1969, 2018. Our ‘Summer of Love’.
And whilst the pain is still currently too severe to think otherwise – now that the World Cup is officially over (crying emoji), it seems like a good time to reflect on the month that was for the Three Lions.
So, in time-honoured fashion – here are 10 positives for us all to take from the World Cup.
We are officially the 4th best nation in world football now. We can argue about draws and pathways till the cows come home, but the statistics are simple. England got to the Semi-Finals, for the first time at any World Cup since 1990.
This is England’s joint best-ever performance at any World Cup to take place outside England. We lasted longer and went further in this tournament than Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Spain, Portugal – to name but just a few. That is all worth celebrating.
When you go far in a tournament, expectations can easily go through the roof… But let’s not forget just how far we’ve come since recent tournaments, shall we?
In 2014, we were the 1st side in the whole tournament to be eliminated, after losing our 1st 2 group games and couldn’t even beat Costa Rica. In 2010, we only won 1 of our 4 games. We haven’t even won a knockout game *in any tournament* since 2006. That goes for the Euros too sadly.
So whilst we can argue about whether this England team are actually as good as our Semi-Final place might otherwise suggest (on balance, probably not yet) – that improvement is massive. And worth celebrating.
I went to the World Cup. Twice.
Look, this isn’t me boasting. I swear. No, really. (Ross edit: Really, Max?). But a World Cup isn’t just about the football – it’s about the memories, that last with you a lifetime. Hugging your friends in the pub when a last-minute winner flies in, seeing your 9-year-old brother fall in love with England for the first time. Football brings out the very best (and worst) in us all.
My highlights were 2 trips to the World Cup, taking in both Lithuania and Bulgaria along the way. Spending a week in Kaliningrad with 2 great university friends, hiring a car and driving around Russia and Lithuania, was an amazing experience. Even England losing our group game to Belgium couldn’t spoil the amazing adventure.
Having spent a week back at work – I then returned to Russia for another once in a lifetime experience. England’s semi-final against Croatia and 5 nights in Moscow. Because guess who was convinced we would get to the final, so booked his flight home for the day after the World Cup finished? Oops. Watching our 3rd place play-off defeat to Belgium in the official Moscow ‘Fifa Fan Fest’ was pretty cool too, though.
But you know what? Even after defeat, we stayed in the Luzhniki Stadium singing and dancing till 1AM. It was heart-breaking, but there was nowhere on Earth I would have rather been to see it.
Safe to say, a few eyebrows were raised when Everton paid Sunderland £30m for the young Goalkeeper. But Scunthorpe fans were on the Pickford bandwagon long ago – after he put in one particularly stunning performance against us whilst on loan at Bradford.
And after this World Cup, there aren’t any nay-sayers any more. His distribution has surely been the best of any English keeper at any World Cup, helping to play out from the back behind his 3 centre-halves (more of that later!). The memories of Scott Carson, Rob Green, and David James are long behind us.
His physical presence belied his relative youth, and the command of his area was superb. At just 24, he could very easily remain England’s first-choice Keeper for the next 10 years. Undisputed Number 1.
Here is my own rather less good video of this happening. Can’t get this song out of my head now! pic.twitter.com/k5vXTG3kiE
— Max Bell (@Max_Bell_11) July 12, 2018
If anybody had told you in advance of the tournament, that come the semi-finals we would all be trying to dress like Gareth Southgate, and that Marks & Spencer’s would quite literally sell out of waistcoats – you would have been quite rightly laughed at.
But you would have been right, wouldn’t you? An Atomic Kitten song in his honour went viral, with England fans (including this author) staying until gone 1AM after elimination.
He spoke with dignity and class throughout the tournament, provided a coherent structure and style of play for the team, blooded through young players with a real future, and banished his own ghosts of 1996. Should he want to stay – you feel that the job is his until at least 2022. Anybody fancy Christmas in Qatar?
The second part to this blog will follow in the coming days.