Daniel Clay's Column
By Daniel_Clay | Thursday, June 24, 2010, 07:32
Hello Hedge Enders. How is the future? Are England out of the world cup yet? Did we manage to get through? Was the third group match any better than the earlier two? You know this. I don’t. Deadlines and alcohol consumption mean I’m having to write this column before our final group game, so I haven’t a clue; just a dead dread sensation in the pit of my stomach.
So nothing new there then.
Anyway, as we’re well into the world cup now, I thought I’d tell you about my wife’s attempts to ruin it for me. I’ve got to admit, she’s been sneaky so far, and put a lot of planning into spoiling my good time: She actually started her campaign last winter, when she ear-marked the first weekend of the whole tournament for a camping trip to Cornwall. A nice quiet weekend away, she said. Just you and me, she said. We can do a bit of surfing, she said. There’s nothing else going on that weekend, she said. And she lied, because, obviously, she knew damned well it was the first weekend of the World Cup. I should have known myself: She never smiles unless she’s destroying something I’ve set my heart on enjoying.
Once I realised the trick she’d played I complained bitterly. She responded bitterly. The site was already booked, the deposit had been paid, she was prepared to slip arsenic into my food resulting in a long slow lingering death if I dared to even think about trying to back out. So I didn’t. But I negotiated: As long as we could watch the England game, and as long as I could make regular trips to a pub to catch up on the other games, I’d help her put the tent up and try not to ruin the entire weekend. Deal, she said. Deal, I said. And, as usual, neither of us came out of it feeling very happy.
So that’s how I came to miss all the games on the first day and all but the England game on the second day: My wife somehow made sure the surf was flat and the wind was sending a wall of sand barrelling through the town we were camping in, meaning we spent most of the weekend huddled behind a hedge in a field with newspapers over our heads to keep the sand out of our eyes.
We did brave the sandstorm for the England game, though. There were two big screen TVs in the pub and a really good atmosphere, but I have the sneaking suspicion my wife had hired the most annoying woman in the world to come and stand next to me and yell inanely in a heavy fake Swedish accent all the way through the match. As an indication of how annoying she was she spent every single minute – including half-time – following America’s equaliser yelling at the top of her voice: “Is easy catch, no? Is easy catch, no? Come on, Eng-land. Why not you beat these Dodos?”
I was almost glad it was over, just to get back to the peace of the field.
The sabotage for the next England game was even more underhand: Where are you watching the next game, I asked her. We, she said, glaring, are watching it over So & So’s. Oh no, I said, no way. So & So have a baby. Yes, she said, But this was arranged before they had the baby...
It can’t have been, I said, that baby’s eight months old. The date of the game was only set four or five months ago.
Well I’ve said yes now, she screamed down at me once she’d secured me in the headlock. Don’t even think about trying to back out of it.
So that’s how I ended up watching the first fifteen minutes of England V Algeria with an eight month old baby sitting in my lap. And, I have to be honest, wondering whether little Freddie was going to vomit or go to the toilet all over me provided more excitement than England managed that evening. I was almost sad when his mother announced watching me try to entertain him wasn’t funny anymore and took him away for a bath: We were atrocious, weren’t we? It’s so disappointing, really. I don’t expect England to win a tournament, but some of the happiest memories of my long sad miserable life have been watching our handful of decent games in the finals: in ’82 against France, in 86 against Poland, in ’90 against Cameroon and the penalty defeat against West Germany, then the ’98 shootout game against Argentina. In all of those games, we played genuinely exciting football. Win, lose or draw, it was almost like watching Brazil...
While I don’t think it’s beyond this team to produce performances to match those long ago ones in what remains of this world cup, it’s looking increasingly unlikely. And, if that’s the case, it could be too late for the likes of me: World Cups come around once every four years and England fail to qualify for one tournament on average a decade. I’ll be forty-four by the time the next one comes around. If we miss the one after that, I’ll be in my fifties for 2022. If I live that long. And, I have to be honest, that’s looking extremely unlikely. Not because I think my wife’s going to go ahead with her threat to start feeding me arsenic. No. What she’s done this time is even more dangerous than that.
That’s right, Hedge Enders. She’s arranged for us to watch the final group game in a pub somewhere in Eastleigh. Eastleigh! How crazy is she? I mean, all due respect to people from Eastleigh, but watching scenes of South Africans accepting their team’s exit by singing hymns late into the night made me wonder exactly which is the most lawless and violent place to be – the townships of Soweto, or Istanbul Grill Kebab House just after the shirtless tanked-up teens have run out of windows in High Street to hurl each other through.
Unless England make it out of the group stages, there’s no chance we’ll get out alive.
And even if we do make it through, I give my wife and I only a fifty/fifty chance of returning to Hedge End in anything other than the back of a hearse. Which means I’ll probably never write another column on here again. Thanks for reading and thanks to those of you who took the time to post comments. Enjoy the rest of your lives.