Yesterday was a long one, involving as it did setting off from the south coast at 7.30am to take my aged father to a lunch in central London and then back again. Never mind the driving or the meal, it was the double dose of rush-hour (morning and afternoon) that was the biggest ordeal.
Upon returning to from whence we had begun, I instantly altered my original plan to set off straight away back to my own home on the outskirts of London, opting instead for a triple gin & tonic, a chat on the terrace in the warmth of the evening sunshine – something of a revelation after the monsoon-like conditions of most of the day – and an overnight stay before making my homeward journey later today.
After such a rewarding and worthwhile (albeit tiring) expedition it was very pleasant indeed to have the opportunity to relax and wind down.
We then decided to complete our day by watching the Euro 2016 England football match against Slovakia in St-Etienne on ITV, kicking off at 8.00pm.
The experience soon proved to be the latest in a long line of traditional England (and much mocked) performances at major tournaments. No doubt fans of every footballing nation on Earth can point to their own tales of high hopes and expectations then inevitably followed by desperate disappointment when it comes to important tournaments, but surely nobody can match ours.
I’m not clear in my own mind as to why this should be. It’s probably and fundamentally down to the English nation’s unique and over-pronounced sense of entitlement, not only to be at the top table of every major world sport but then also succeed at it.
Last night Roy Hodgson had made six changes to his team for what presumably was intended to be a routine victory and then progression to the next stage of the tournament as a group winner.
Instead we were treated a snore-fest of a 0-0 draw, enlivened only by occasion reports from the other game simultaneously taking place – Wales’s 3-0 drubbing of Russia which allowed the Principality to snatch ‘our’ group winner status.
I’m no football fanatic, but ever since the late 1970s I have been subjected to a surfeit of England under-achievement on the world stage.
My hunch is that England’s abject performances down the age result from the contrast of the frenetic pace of top flight English football (which gives players little time to think) and the mind-scrambling effect of being away together for three to four weeks in a foreign country with nothing to do but contemplate the enormity of the showcase competition that we are about to play in.
The overwhelming weight of expectation, coupled with the false conviction that, at this level, one must play more deliberately and conservatively than we are used to doing, does the rest. When it seems that your most-coached byword is “Don’t do anything remotely risky”, the chances of getting in a muddle must increase exponentially.
Watching our boys pass endlessly sideways back and forth at the back, or getting into the middle of the park … and then just walking the ball all the way back to the goalkeeper … whilst the chosen commentator and attached pundit waffle on about Roy’s chosen system for the evening and the way individual players are executing it (most often by blasting well wide of the goal from 25 yards or more out from all sides of the pitch) could become a perfect cure for insomnia if only someone could find a way of bottling it.
The final whistle couldn’t come soon enough for anyone in our household, immediately after which I trudged upstairs to bed feeling that I’d just wasted another two and a half hours of my rapidly-shortening life span …