Euro Cup

Being an English soccer fan: A raw, emotional perspective from Martin Rogers

July 12, 2021

By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist

I’ll tell you what happened, I can manage that much. I’ll tell you the goals and the times and the scorers, the result and the title won and where and when it happened.

That’s about all though, at first, anyways. The rest of it, what it signified and what it meant, what dreams it represented and that excruciating, agonizing, infuriating, demoralizing heartache? I can’t right now. I just can’t.

Regular readers of this column know by now I’m English because I occasionally mention it, though mostly I don’t, because mostly it’s not relevant. It’s relevant today, the day after England’s soccer team lost another chance to grasp a surge of national sporting pride that most of the country have never felt in their lifetime.

On Sunday, Italy won the final of the European Championships. It did so via penalty kicks, after a 1-1 tie in regulation and then extra time. England scored first, after only two minutes, via the left foot of defender Luke Shaw, then tried to protect its lead. It couldn’t.

Italy equalized at 67 minutes with Leonardo Bonucci and then, ultimately, the gauntlet of penalties arrived. England gained an early advantage in the shootout when Jordan Pickford saved Andrea Belotti’s effort, but one by one, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all missed, and it was over.

That’s the action and that was the detail. I can’t tell you about the rest because to do so is to entertain the feeling that it will always be like this, supporting England, just nothing more than one fresh dagger after another, made so, so much worse the closer glory comes before being ultimately snatched away.

I can’t tell you exactly how much it hurts but let’s just say it’s now at the point when you think it can’t possibly bite more than it has before, only to find out that actually, yes, it can.

I can’t tell you about the ever-growing length of time it has been since the nation that invented modern soccer and established its initial laws won a major tournament for the one and only time, though the history books will convey that it was the World Cup in 1966 and that there has been nothing more since, not even another appearance in a final until this one.

I can’t tell you about the thoughts I’ve had because they’re dark, the sort that makes you and others wonder if there is something wrong with your nation’s entire psyche, so often has it been found wanting in its national game, precisely when it comes to the moments where the steeliest nerve is needed.

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It would sting too much to tell you about the tortured path it takes you on, year after year, at World Cups and Euros, and how it makes you question everything. How supporting a national team through thick and (mostly) thin once made you believe you were undertaking the ultimate show of loyalty and perseverance and that it would one day be rewarded. Except it hasn’t been. Not yet, and maybe never.

I can’t tell you how hard it was for me to rein in the enthusiasm this time, because it feels so foolish now, so silly to have avoided celebrating the round of 16 victory over Germany and the quarterfinal rout of Ukraine and the semifinal nail-biter against Denmark, because to do so would have felt woefully overconfident and inviting of bad karma, like all those misplaced verses of "Football’s Coming Home" that reverberated around the country.

I might as well have just reveled in what success there was to be had before the inevitable pall of gloom hit like it always does.

I can’t bring myself to tell you how it really did feel like it could be different this time, because to admit that would mean the joke is on me, again, and all those like me, who dared to believe and came up dry.

And I can’t tell you how pained it felt to already sense the grim drag of fate when watching Rashford, Sancho and Saka step forward, doubt etched all over their young faces, as imposing Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma seemed to fill the entire net.

I can’t tell you these things because I can’t talk about it to anyone, because most people don’t get it and the ones that do, well, they don’t want to talk about it either.

It seems silly to cry over sports, but the older you get, somehow, the worse it is to be an England fan. By the time the next World Cup is upon us, England’s drought will have reached 56 years. If it continues for another 56, I’ll either have headed off to the great press box in the sky or I’ll be nearing 100.

I remember when I moved from England to Australia as a child, and the 1990 World Cup semifinal defeat (again on penalties, that time to West Germany) gave the class bully, and a rather unpleasant teacher, another excuse to pour ridicule on the new kid in a way that went far beyond the typical good-natured sports banter.

It stung then and, in truth, it’s never stopped stinging. A win here would have put it right, if, in front of Prince William and Kate Middleton and David Beckham and a lockdown-defying crowd and at London’s Wembley Stadium, for goodness sake, it had finally gone England’s way.

A soccer game can take an eternity or it can go by in a flash. This one did both. It was an explosion of joy that never came to be. It was a soothing balm that never got applied. It was the thing to make this testing time and all its challenges so much easier, until it wasn’t, and was instead just the same old nightmare.

The nightmare that you never intended to talk about, only to realize that you just did – just one more thing that didn’t go how you’d hoped.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.


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