The World Cup started in Brazil on Thursday, but for the English it begins tonight. We play Italy. I live in Rome. I’m not sure that I’m looking forward to it. We played Italy in the 2012 European Championships. I watched it in a Roman piazza. It was embarrassing. The Italians felt bad for me. Watching England is always an experience fraught with anxiety and often depression. It’s not so much 30 Years of Hurt, more 30 years of disappointing performances and frustrated expectations. A team who cannot seem to hold onto possession, who cannot pass a ball, who look as though they don’t want to be there, who don’t seem to have met the other members of their team.
It doesn’t have to be like this. England can play. They have good players who do know what a ball is. I remember the first World Cup I ever watched, appropriately enough Italia ’90 and especially England’s semi-final match against Germany with Gazza, another wonderful match against Argentina in 2002 with Beckham, I distinctly remember an incredible result against Holland once. But for the rest, pretty much disillusionment and a lot of shouting.
But, tonight we will hope again. We will hope that Hodgson will play a young team who will at least give us a bit of passion, a bit of fight. We will follow the Bishop of Leeds and pray “God, who played the cosmos into being, please help England rediscover their legs, their eyes and their hunger: that they might run more clearly, pass more nearly and enjoy the game more dearly. Amen.” And if that doesn’t work, we will sing the songs, always our greatest strength. If there was a World Cup for football songs, we’d surely make it to the final. “We’re gonna score one more than you! England!” Forza Inghilterra!!