Here we go again… England expects. The Three Lions have qualified for the World Cup Finals, but, as always, we were chewing our fingernails until the dying minutes of the all-important last qualifying game against Poland at Wembley, before go-to man Steven Gerrard stepped up to seal a 2-0 triumph. And breathe… After three decades of watching England try and ultimately fail on the world stage, it doesn’t get any easier.
It’s Wednesday June 16, 1982, and Ron Greenwood’s England team are about to make their first appearance at the World Cup Finals since losing to West Germany in the last eight back in 1970. England kick off and quickly win a throw-in on the right. Steve Coppell launches the ball into the box; the marauding Terry Butcher out-jumps Marius Tresor and flicks on for an unmarked Bryan Robson… I’m open-mouthed, breathless with excitement… Robbo swivels and volleys past Jean-Luc Ettori in the French goal. GET IN!!! My tight-fitting, hand-me-down Admiral kit rips across the shoulder as I punch the air in delight, but who cares – it’s 1-0 to England after only 27 seconds. Yes, you read that right – 27 seconds!! Forget Paolo Rossi and Italy, forget Zico and the brilliant Brazilians; England are obviously the greatest team on the planet.
If only I’d turned off the TV at that precise moment and vowed never to watch England again. That seven-year-old boy would have been spared the expectation, anguish and bitter disappointment of watching the national team. The Hand of God, missed penalties, Gazza’s tears, the Turnip Era, more missed penalties, faith healers, resignations in toilets, the Swedish lothario, yet more missed penalties and even wallies with brollies.
It’s been one hell of a ride; a journey I wouldn’t recommend anyone taking. But here we are again, under loveable Uncle Roy – a man derided mercilessly by former players, current managers and the media prior to back-to-back performances against Montenegro and Poland that have once again breathed that familiar feeling of hope and expectation into every football loving Englishman.
Can England lift the trophy in Brazil next summer? The head says… Oh forget it, of course we can.