Thursday, 20 May 2010

Here we go again.

As the 2010 World Cup looms ever closer on the horizon and the nation once again gets uncharacteristically hopeful and dangerously patriotic, memories of tournaments past come flooding back to football fans across the country.

The hustle and bustle of the domestic season has all but ended, and club loyalties are due to be put aside for a summer spent in front of the TV, yelling mildly xenophobic comments at referees and likewise extremely offensive comments at ITV commentators.

For many of us, there is never quite the same passion that there is with your own team, and as a result following the national team in a major tournament feels a lot like a summer time fling with a fancy continental mistress away from the trusty housewife that is the English league.

Yet despite starting off sceptical, and telling yourself yet again that you won't get your hopes up this time, once the tournament is under way and life begins revolving around the World Cup once again, you can't help but get caught up in the drama.

After months spent resolutely sticking by your team and booing and heckling anyone who pulls on the shirt of another club, it feels strange now throwing your hat in with these scoundrels and doing something as outlandish as willing Steven Gerrard to do well.

Suddenly you're cheering on Wayne Rooney, talking up the abilities of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole seems somehow less annoying, and even John Terry, no he's still a fairly cretinous human being. However, if big John scores a bullet header to put us through to the next round, I'll sing his name as loudly as the next man.

So it goes every time we qualify for a major tournament. The last month or so of the domestic season is spent endlessly hoping the big name players stay clear of injuries for as we all now know, metatarsals get notoriously weak around this time of year. As the German national team can attest this time around, it can be a major blow to lose a big name player this close to the tournament, and as Wayne took to the field against my beloved Stoke, even I was praying that Andy Wilkinson could avoid tackling him too enthusiastically for the next 90 minutes.

For the few weeks leading up to the tournament, every self-styled expert across the country begins to formulate their own squad that Fabio should take to South Africa. The pro's and con's of Emile Heskey's game and his ability to 'create' goals gets analysed like never before. Steven Gerrard's best position gets scrutinised with even greater ferocity, and everyone hopes this is the tournament when Frank shows what he can do on the biggest stage of all.

Meanwhile, there are tell tale signs in every English town and city that a major tournament is on it's way. St George's crosses appear wherever you turn and motorists in particular decide that adorning their car's with as many flags as possible is the best way to show their national pride. The rest of the public of course see it as merely the best way to show you are a twat.

Seemingly every advert on TV involves football or footballers, ranging from the heartwarming (Sony Bravia and the fat kid scoring a goal. Gawd bless ya son), to the strangely inspiring (that Carlsberg add should be really annoying, but I have grown strangely attached to it now, despite Phil Taylor's baffling cameo), to the just plain crap (note to Pringles, Dirk Kuyt's face should not be used to sell anything).

The tabloids also increase their substantial zeal for gossip and intrigue surrounding the national team, as the gaping hole left by the end of the domestic season needs to be filled come what may. The red-top's shameless journos must be rubbing their hands together and waiting impatiently for a piece of scandalous news to emerge, much like baying Jackals following a hunt and eagerly waiting for a piece of carrion to be tossed their way. Someones got to cheat on someone sooner or later after all.

As the various pull-outs and wall charts increase in number and the important match dates get inked onto many a calender, the excitement begins to build.

This year, the squad is looking strong and with Wayne in top form, we have to be considered one of the tournament favourites. Football fans up and down the country are allowing themselves to dream of how they would celebrate if England do manage to lift the trophy. The mass sick day of Monday 12th July will be a wonderful thing to behold. Maybe, just maybe, they will go all the way this time. This could be our year.

Just, one thing, .........for the love of God, practice your penalty taking boys. We all know it's coming sooner or later.

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