Fifa World Cup: we are insufferable but please forgive us – penalty shoot-out pain is ingrained in England psyche
England just aren’t meant to win penalty shoot-outs at the World Cup but that’s just what they did against Colombia
If you’re not an England fan in Hong Kong, your office will have been unbearable this morning. We’ve all had about two hours’ sleep, we’ve got sore heads and hoarse throats, and you’ll be hearing the phrase “it’s coming home” a lot.
It could have been so different though – it could have been like it usually is.
At 4.30am on Tuesday morning, standing on a sofa at the back of a Sheung Wan bar and linking arms with strangers and friends, I had a familiar feeling – England were lining up for a penalty shoot-out in a knockout game at a major international tournament and we were going to lose it.
It’s ingrained in each and every one of us that we will lose these shoot-outs, football’s version of Russian roulette, because that’s just what England do.
I had only ever witnessed England win one shoot-out. That was on home soil at Euro ’96 against Spain, and I was eight years old. It was the first international tournament I can remember, and I thought England being good at penalties would be the norm for the rest of my life.
Little did I know that I would watch us lose on pens to Germany a few days later in the semi-finals; to Portugal in the last eight at Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup; and to Italy at Euro 2012. Before my time, there was the agony of Italia ‘90 in the semi-finals against Germany, too.
We bottle it. We choke. We buckle under the pressure. The weight of the nation’s hopes and expectations suffocates our players.
When Jordan Henderson’s weak effort was palmed round the post by Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina, I knew what was coming. We all shared his expression of despair.
Henderson was going to be the new fall guy – the latest England star to fluff a penalty and break all our hearts, just like England manager Gareth Southgate had done as a player in that Germany semi-final in 1996.
I had already been resigned to more heartache when Yerry Mina rose high to head home from a corner in the 94th minute, drawing Colombia level at 1-1 in Moscow.
Of course England were going to throw it away, going to blow it away. We’ve seen it all before.
But somehow, England changed the narrative. This positive young side assembled by Southgate does not seem to be weighted down by the same fear that every England team has had to bear since 1966, when Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy.
This England side can deal with setbacks. When Tunisia equalised at 1-1 in our opening game at Russia 2018, the players kept plugging away, and got their reward when Harry Kane headed home the winner in added time.
Watching that game in a Wan Chai bar a couple of weeks ago, the England fan in front of me had just been berating Kane seconds earlier for being “useless” and several other words I won’t repeat. England fans expect failure.
After the 1-0 defeat by Belgium in the final group game, when both teams made mass changes to their starting XIs, there was a collective feeling among most England fans of ‘here we go again’.
A feeling that the 6-1 win against Panama was just a flash in the pan performance against a woeful side, that this tournament really wouldn’t end up any different than all the past failures.
But then that rarest of things happened – England got a lucky break.
With Colombia leading 3-2 in the shoot-out, midfielder Mateus Uribe struck the bar, and England had a lifeline.
Apologies to anyone in the Queen’s Road West area who was woken by the guttural roar that went up in Konfusion.
Still, I must admit, I didn’t believe. I thought England were just going to mess things up as usual, even after Kieran Tripper levelled it at 3-3.
But then it happened. Jordan Pickford made an incredible save, diving to his right and clawing away Carlos Bacca’s penalty with his outstretched left hand.
This isn’t what happens to England – surely something is still going to go wrong, I thought, as Eric Dier walked to the penalty spot with history within his grasp.
But Dier sent a sent a crisp, low shot past Ospina, and suddenly the world made no sense.
Like millions around the world, we were jumping within a millisecond of the ball hitting the net. I accidentally knocked the HDMI lead out of the television above my head with my shoulder. I was hugging people I’d never met, and kissing a bald bloke’s sweaty head.
We England fans have a right to be unbearable today, because we’ve had 52 years of futility, hurt and disappointment ingrained in our psyches.
It was the first World Cup knockout game England had won since 2006. It was the first time England has ever won a World Cup penalty shoot-out.
Now I see English people crowded around television screens in the office, smiling as they watch Dier smash home that penalty.
Normally they would be banging their heads on their desks the morning after a World Cup knockout match.
The World Cup trophy still may not be “coming home”, to paraphrase David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s seminal England anthem “Three Lions”, but you’re going to see plenty of memes on social media saying it is.
And I refuse to apologise for forwarding them to you. Sorry, not sorry.