That penalties curse…

IT IS my gloomy habit to skim the newspaper headlines on the BBC website. Nowadays most of them contain that unavoidable neologism beginning with a ‘B’. For once this morning’s post-match headlines raise the spirits, even if the first one seems a stretch – “NEVER IN DOUBT!” shouts the Metro, celebrating England’s victory over Colombia.

It didn’t look that way perched on the edge of the family sofa.

The occasional watcher of football can all too easily assume that England losing is just what happens, yet now we are through to the quarter finals after winning a penalty shootout – a form of torture that generally finishes us off.

This time we survived thanks, according to the front page of The Sun, to “The hand of Jord” – a punning hymn to Jordan Pickford’s one-handed save from Carlos Bacca’s attempt that led the way to Eric Dier breaking the penalty curse.

The tabloid puts this uplifting turn of events on its back page – “It’s the headline we have waited a lifetime to write: England win on penalties (Yes, Really!”).

The Mirror fronts with: “AT LAST! England win on penalties”, while the Daily Express goes with the retrospective optimism of “NEVER IN DOUBT!”

Headline writers often plough the same furrow, so it’s good to see The Guardian’s back page going in a fresh direction with an Obama riff: “Yes, we can – England finally win a World Cup penalty shootout…”

The photographs are great too, with Pickford’s save captured, alongside many shots of the celebratory scrum as the players piled on top of Harry Kane.

I can’t pretend to know an awful lot about football, but I am old enough to remember the 1966 World Cup victory, and it would be encouraging to no longer have to witter on about that.

It’s been a long wait, hasn’t it?

Last night’s match ended in adrenaline-shot fashion, with England seemingly condemned to stick to the preordained script of losing on penalties – and winning instead, thanks in good part to Gareth Southgate and his lucky waistcoat (made in Yorkshire, according to BBC Look North).

As an occasional viewer of football matches, my thoughts aren’t worth a lot. I did enjoy last night’s glorious tussle, although it seemed to be a bad-tempered affair. The Colombian side shoved and pushed and quarrelled and generally behaved in a calculatedly aggressive manner. From where I was sitting, they deserved to lose.

Next stop, Sweden.

Yesterday I suffered another squash defeat at the hands of the unconquerable opponent. No headline writers attended this ritual misery, but at least the word shapers were able to put their skills to optimistic use on behalf of England.

If  – no, when – the unbeatable one is beaten, I will write my own headline.

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