Defeat by Croatia leaves me unexpectedly sad…

FOOTBALL is not coming home. This leaves me unexpectedly sad, although no longer having to hear the words “football’s coming home” will be some compensation.

Football’s going to Croatia or France instead, going somewhere else, as usually happens in the World Cup.

The mood of the moment mixes disappointment with pride in what was achieved. This time was meant to be different; this time we were in with a chance; and this time was different, as we had a good run before everything slipped away again.

England’s bid to reach a first World Cup final since I was ten years old came to nothing after Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic scored in the 109th minute, slotting in from Ivan Perisic’s flick-on into the area.

Thanks to the BBC Sport website for that sporty information, as my football knowledge isn’t up to much more than working out which shirts we are wearing. And knowing for sure that we lost to Croatia, dismissed at half-time by one of the ITV commentators as “not a very good team”.

But I was thrilled – honestly, that doesn’t always happen – by Kieran Trippier’s 20-yard free-kick after five minutes. I was watching by myself as my wife didn’t return from the gym until half-time. After the interval, a bit of England’s vim seemed to have gone, lost in the sweaty spasms of muscle pain, although I don’t think my wife was to blame.

The newspapers are almost universally kind this morning, with ‘heroes’ and ‘pride’ appearing in many headlines. The Daily Telegraph has “Pride of Lions” – a nice, simple and complete headline.

Over at the Mail, a newspaper known for carping, the narrative headline for an inside story is unusually kind, reading: “Yes, it all ended in tears. But they gave us pride – and brought the whole nation together.”

It is a rule in the Man on Ledge handbook of life that suspicion should be steeled whenever the phrase “the whole nation” is used. Those words are so often misappropriated by politicians on the make, especially in these days of over-selling us Brexit (and I bet that’ll go into extra time, too). But I’ll forgive the Mail just this once.

I like this declaration from the Telegraph: “You did us proud. It’s not coming home, but it was great fun while it lasted… Hold your heads high.”

As is more often the case, I also agree with the Guardian. The paper’s anguished view is that in Moscow hopes were shattered and hearts broken. But fans who watched the game on a big screen at home told the paper that Gareth Southgate had “relit the fire”. Yes, and didn’t it need a match or two.

Yes, that seems about right from this rare watcher of football. Southgate is a gentleman manager who quietly went away and rewrote the way England should play and summoned up a collaborative spirit. And he seems to truly care about his young players.

Yes, there is disappointment; and, yes again, the queue of “what ifs” will do a gloomy waltz to the horizon and beyond. But it was fun while it lasted and I do feel a sense of pride.

Will I watch another game of football before the next World Cup in four years? Oh, you never know…

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