BY now, I should be getting a bit excited. Normally I’d be monitoring form, fretting over injuries and sketching out my ideal squad of 23 for Rio on the back of an old bank statement. But having watched England in action against Denmark last week I really can’t be bothered.
I suppose this comes to us all in the end. I remember as a kid I could never understand why my dad wasn’t counting down the days to the next World Cup.
He didn’t say as much, but I reckon it was some time around 9.30pm on the evening of July 5, 1982 that he’d finally surrendered to the inevitable and given in to the soul-crushing realisation that England would never again win a major football tournament.
It was a decent summer that year, but try as I might to persuade him to play football with me in the back garden he couldn’t seem to tear himself away from Trevor Francis’s dodgy barnet.
And even when he did budge from the sofa it was only for a quick 15-minute kickabout at half-time before settling back in front of Espana ‘82.
But all that changed once Kevin Keegan missed that sitter against Spain to seal our exit. Suddenly my dad was happy to play as much football as I wanted.
Looking back on it now, I realise that after years of watching the frenzy of national expectation extinguished in the blink of a botched penalty or doomed substitution he had finally reached the point of no return with England.
But my dad was the lucky one. At least he’d been alive when we won something. Little did I know it, but when Mexico ‘86 rolled around it marked the start of nearly a quarter of a century spent labouring under the misapprehension that it was only a matter of time before England were world-beaters once again.
I collected the sticker albums, I filled in the unnecessarily-complicated wallcharts. I believed them when Bryan Robson, Terry Butcher, Alan Shearer, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard all told me that this time, more than any other time, we were going to do it.
But having watched Wayne Rooney repeatedly balloon the ball over the bar last Wednesday night, and our defence get sliced open by a Danish side who would struggle to beat a Premier League team (Manchester United apart), I have finally lost the faith. And most of the blokes I know feel the same way. One told me he cried on his way to school the day after Maradona’s handball knocked us out in Mexico.
“Now you just wonder what the point is, don’t you?” he said. “They’re going to get killed by Italy in that first game. They’ll probably be home before the postcards.”
For us, this is the end of the line. Our hopes have been raised and crushed too many times. But then, at the back of your mind, you wonder if this is when they might actually go and surprise you. And that’s when you realise there’s no hope – for us or England.