Sunday, Apr 19, 2015Sunday, Apr 19, 2015

Supporting England hurts, but will never stop

Published on Jun 21, 2014 6:07 PM
World Cup hopes crushed: Fans in lion costumes were disappointed by England's early exit. -- PHOTO: AFP

My Dad always dismissed any kind of sport as a waste of time and my brother felt the same.

Neither could see the value in grown men kicking an inflated pig's bladder around a field, a feeling I flirted with myself when Uruguay striker Luis Suarez broke free and rifled his second goal past Joe Hart on Thursday night.

England fans' misery was soon completed when Costa Rica beat a languid Italy to mean another failed mission for the Three Lions, as the team booked their flight home before the group phase had even finished.

For anyone who follows England - either through birth, or perhaps more admirably, by choice - this is a familiar pattern.

A competition begins with hope, quickly runs into reality and then ends in defeat, either by fair means or foul.

All of us who have walked this well-worn path will have different memories, but my first experience came at the World Cup in Spain 1982 when I was nine years old.

Perhaps I should have steeled myself for disappointment since England had failed to even qualify in 1974 and 1978, but I will use my tender years (aged one and five) as an excuse for any naiviety.

That's fair as a schoolboy but, worryingly, I never have been able to shake off that wide-eyed expectation of hope no matter how compelling evidence is to the contrary.

Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy now seem like laughable ruses, but I blame Bryan Robson's goal after just 27 seconds against France at Spain 82 as one big reason for my never-ending optimism.

Although my father failed to share my enthusiasm, my grandparents were big football fans and I would watch the games at their house, or chat with them over the telephone in the hall about the players and results. I still do the same more than 30 years on.

My grandfather is now nearly 90 years old, has had two strokes and struggles to articulate his thoughts but he was still able to describe this campaign in Brazil as "b****y rubbish", words that I have heard so many times over the years and yet are still, unfortunately, as apt as ever.

Perversely, I think that is why I have been able to carry on believing in England. My grandfather was more than happy to take me to local club matches, creating a bond with him that seemed to grow deeper with every shared suffering we experienced together.

I learnt on the terraces at Grimsby Town to deal with broken dreams and long slogs of woeful seasons punctuated with moments of absolute brilliance and joy.

That faith in something good happening brings a reward of its own, whether a chosen team wins or loses. There is always another chance, another competition to get things right. I never gave up hope, even in the darkest of times, because I know that one game - maybe the next - can turn things around as long as the effort is put in.

For now, England's early exit from Brazil hurts but that feeling will disappear when qualification for Euro 2016 in France begins.

Can England win? I'd be a madman to say yes but the expectation will grow louder the closer the tournament gets. At the very least England fans can take comfort in the fact that Suarez won't be lining up on the other side this time.