9 June 2010
I’ve never seen what my road looks like when England have qualified for a major football tournament. Two years ago, the team fluffed qualification for the European Championships, and during the last World Cup I was living somewhere else.
The flag-to-car-corner ratio is high. Even the flag-to-balcony ratio is rising from its general democratic baseline, zero.
I don’t even know who all the teams in the World Cup are. I could never have said that before. When I dug my sweepstake entry from the Quality Street tin belonging to the nice lady at work, my first response to the also-rans I pulled out was: ‘Is that country in it?’
Football was more exciting when I was younger than the players. In the early nineties, thanks to top-trump cards, I knew a fair proportion of the birth years of the top-trump-worthy footballers in the English Premier League. Their adulthood was anchored reassuringly in the sixties and seventies, where grown-ups came from.
In fact, sometimes they weren’t very grown up. Today’s captain of Manchester United was part of a squad brought up from the youth team in 1994 or thereabouts who infamously caused a defender-turned-pundit on the BBC to say, ‘You’ll never win anything with kids.’ A decade and a half later, he looks – well, he looks like a tweeker, actually. I’m really sorry.
I learned an extra layer of European geography from UEFA Cup ties: Vigo, Cagliari, Olomouc. The league globalised and – in that sweet spot where stars were the same age as me – bought in exciting, androgynous boys. Now those pretty fine-boned youths have grown broad shoulders and full beards. Elizabethan theatre-goers – Athenians, even – must have had the same complaint.
People who were teen idols when I went to school are now retiring. And the crease between my eyebrow and my nose, these days, could almost hold a thin pencil tight on its own.