Rejoice, for England have triumphed and progressed beyond the group stages, prolonging this farcical nonsense for at least one more game. Is Roy Hodgson pleased? You bet your sweet bippy!
Surely by now you would expect to have at least seen the coquettish, sashaying ankle of bad luck. Quite the opposite in fact. It seems that, for the time being at least, Lady Luck is wearing one of those rubbish we-won-the-World-Cup-once-Ingerlund t-shirts found every other summer in Burton. Against France there was no late goal to break hearts, against Sweden there was no doleful introspection after going behind, and against Ukraine, a perfectly good goal was disallowed. We’ll ignore the fact that Marko Devic was offside anyway, since that seems to be what everyone else (Hello, Oleg Blokhin!) is doing. The point is, some stereotypes are being subverted. And who doesn’t love a bit of stereotype subversion, eh lads?
Stephen Fry’s pompous physiognomy can be stamped all over the square marked with England’s next destination – the quarter finals. This stage represented more a quiet hope rather than the cynicism thickly spread elsewhere on the bingo card, but the fact is that elimination at the hands of Italy would still represent a fine effort. The majority of (sane) England fans would’ve accepted going out at this stage before the tournament, and the fact that this glass ceiling is now considered an achievement illustrates the re-evaluation of expectations that have been a hallmark of this campaign. You’ll note that the semi-finals are not represented on the image above, but, stripping away all the psychological accoutrements of a frenetic campaign, England are one game away from reaching only the third semi-final in their history. Just imagine the size of Roy’s celebratory Waterstone’s bill should we get there! He’d probably buy, like, eight books. Brother be crazy, yo.
False hope has aggressively asserted its presence on the national psyche, like an overly made-up, scantily-clad girl, convinced of her own attractiveness, even though men only stare at her through a sense of curious pity. But stare we do, trapped as we are in a perpetual simulacrum that distorts lowered expectations into something resembling the quiet defiance of naive optimism. This was always bound to happen, but this is a triumph in and of itself; that any England fan has legitimate cause to hope for anything at this stage in the tournament excels even the crazed pre-tournament thoughts a sane man dare not think with another man’s head.
A lack of creativity was evident when news of Wayne Rooney’s terrible pre-match playlist smeared across the internet like a thick turd thrown at a solid surface. Any collection of music that contains the work of James Morrison is barely worth the effort of the big headphones that signify the self-importance of the man wearing them. Terry Butcher used to rouse his team-mates into a state of frenzy by repeating the demented mantra: “Caged tigers! CAGED TIGERS!” The ostentatious expense of the modern footballer’s cans is instantly ridiculed when you find that they are being used to whip him into a pre-match state of mania via the medium of Eric Clapton’s Tears In Heaven.
A final nod, too, for gallows humour. How Wayne Rooney laughed at his hair transplant after scoring, in staunch defiance of the fact that he is dying, the reaper’s hand firmly ensconced on his bonce in solemn reminder of his inevitable fate. No amount of one-yard wondergoals can change that, Wayne. Laugh while you can, for there will be no banter in the grave.