Yesterday I had the craziest dream, England had won a World Cup game on penalties. I woke up in a bit of a haze, you know that feeling where the dream seemed so real that you are not 100% sure of what actually happened? Did Eric Dier really make that last kick? Did Jordan Pickford really make that impossible save? It turns out it wasn’t a dream at all. Not only was it real, it was spectacular.
Many people ask me, how did you become such a diehard England fan? The simple answer would be that my grandmother and my mom were both born in England, but really for me it all started in 1990 when I spent two months in London sharing an apartment with some friends before traveling around Europe. That was the summer of Italia 90, the last time England made it to the semifinals of the World Cup and for me the start of an incredible love affair with the beautiful game. That summer a Canadian kid who only knew the basics of soccer grew to love that England side full talent, firepower, grit and determination. This was the days before the internet and social media. We would read the newspapers to get the inside stories on the England team, we would watch the games at local pubs cheering along with all the locals. A few weeks earlier I had never heard of John Barnes, Gary Lineker, Chris Waddle or Paul Gascoigne, but pretty soon we were debating with coworkers over who should start and why the manger was suddenly changing formations.
England lost on penalties to eventual champion Germany. We all left the pub that night in silence and the next day no one dare speak about the game. What we didn’t know was that this was to be the start of a terrible run for the England squad where failure to perform at the World Cup or the Euro became commonplace and specifically going home on penalty kicks became almost expected.
Here’s a brief history of England in the penalty kicks:
1990 WC Semi Final. Lost to Germany. I can still see Chris Waddle’s shot sailing over the net.
1996 Euro Semi Final. Football was supposed to be coming home, they had just beaten Spain on penalties in the quarter finals but came up short vs. Germany when current manager Gareth Southgate had his shot saved.
1998 WC Quarter Final. Lost to Argentina. This was the game where David Beckham was famously red carded and David Batty missed the decisive kick for England.
2004 Euro Quarter Final. Lost to Portugal. The Portuguese keeper was the one who took and made the decisive kick just to add a little extra to the humiliation.
2006 WC Quarter Final again vs Portugal. Beckham missed and Ronaldo didn’t.
2012 Euro Quarter Final. Ashely Young off the bar and Ashley Cole with a telegraphed shot.
England didn’t win a game at the last World Cup and then lost to Iceland in the Euro’s, those teams under manager Roy Hodgson seemed to be put together with no rhyme or reason, no plan, no heart.
The win vs Columbia yesterday felt like a kind of redemption for England. Every time they lose in penalties the pressure increases the next time. Southgate knows more than anyone the feeling of going out on penalties, but this time England have belief in themselves and with that England fans also have belief. I don’t know how this World Cup will end but this England squad have allowed me to dream about the perfect ending. Football’s Coming Home!
I’ll leave you with this video of me watching the final shot of the penalties vs Columbia.