After a World Cup break with far too many early mornings and far too much bacon and eggs, it’s time to get back to my record collection. Four years after the disappointment of Brazil, where England failed to win a game in the group stages, surely we were to expect more of the same in Russia. Right?
Things started off strangely with an opening game seeing Russia wallop an unsuspecting Saudi Arabia 5-0. Was this the home advantage coming into play, or just a simple case of the Saudis being served radioactive falafel in their hotel the night before? The scoreline betrayed the alarming levels of mediocrity on display, but at least President Putin looked satisfied. I watched through tired eyes; the game having kicked off at 3am NZ-time.
The opening weekend saw the first big game of the tournament – Portugal versus Spain – at a slightly more acceptable 6am. As much as I love to hate Ronaldo and his supersized ego, his hat-trick, and Spain’s answers from Costa and Nacho, made for a bloody entertaining 3-3 draw.
On the Monday morning, I called into the Fox Sports Bar on my way into work. A new job in the city has put me much closer to options like this, and so the idea of watching Brazil play Switzerland, over a cooked breakfast just sounded great. A 6am kick-off meant catching the first train into the city – filled with construction workers in hard-hats and hi-viz – but it was worth the early start.
I ended up sat in an empty bar, watching that Brazil game, but the coffee and bacon and eggs made it worthwhile. I expected a similar turnout the following morning for the England vs. Tunisia game, but when I arrived ten minutes before kick-off, it was already packed out. Harry Kane’s injury time header gave us the first World Cup Finals win in eight years – talk about scraping through.
As soon as the referee blew his whistle, the bar played Three Lions at maximum volume to a pub full of relieved England fans. A bit early, I thought, to be playing that. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
Over the next couple of weeks, my body clock took a hammering as I woke at 4:30am to get into the city to watch the 6am game each morning at the Fox. I slowly made my way through their breakfast menu, and made new friends. I sniggered with a Brazil fan as we watched Argentina get murdered 3-0 by Croatia. Schadenfreude should have been invented to describe the pleasure of watching Argentinians, with tears in their eyes, sat at the next table. They still qualified out of the group stage though, the bastards.
A gave up on the Fox when they got a liquor license to serve alcohol at the 6am games. Watching Uruguay eliminate Portugal in the round of 16 was slightly dampened by a trio of morons who were only there to continue their Saturday night drinking.
Quarter-final weekend clashed with my 40th birthday, and I spent the Friday night consuming pitchers of cider with friends from work. I then stayed up all night watching the first two quarter-finals. It was hard work but I pushed through the hangover, feeling like a pig had shat in my brain.
As a result, the next night I ended up sleeping through three alarms to wake me up for the England vs. Sweden quarter-final. Back home, the English celebrated by showering themselves with beer at outdoor screenings, and in a new form of middle-aged vandalism, threw some cushions around in a branch of Ikea.
The semi-final performance against Croatia showed an England team for what they were – bloody lucky to have progressed so far in the first place.
The final between France and Croatia – another great game, albeit slightly hampered by a debatable VAR decision – was notable for something that happened after the final whistle. As the French team queued to receive their winner’s medals from Putin, the French President Emmanuel Macron and the Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, a heavy rainstorm came down. With an alarming lack of hospitability, Putin took the first umbrella for himself, leaving Macron and Grabar-Kitarović – a lady! – to get drenched.
I include a photo of Grabar-Kitarović purely for reference. I’ve never been so interested in Croatian politics as I am right now.
What has all of this got to do with Genesis’ Selling England By The Pound, you might ask? Is it a half-hearted reference to Brexit? Your guess is as good as mine, but looking at the Croatian President, I’m pretty sure you don’t get many of those for a pound.
Still, Harry Kane’s six goals won him the Golden Boot (yes, they were all tap-ins, and yes, they were mostly against Tunisia and Panama – but four of Eusebio’s 1966 Golden Boot goals were against bloody North Korea!).
Football’s still coming home. It might just take another four years. Or eight. Or twelve. Or sixteen. Or twenty…
Hit: I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Hidden Gem: Firth Of Fifth