England stir up past traumas and threaten to make a country love again 0

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As I’ve got older, I’ve started to watch England with a sneer; at times, my detachment from the national side has left me almost indifferent to their fortunes - and, sadly, I suspect that a lot of fans feel the same way.  England have had a soulless, trudging quality for a long time which has made them very dislikeable and very easy to ignore.

But, something changed last night and it was very unwelcome.

My early memories of international football are very painful and, to this day, they amount to the sporting equivalent of the relationship break-up that I never quite got over.  You know those middle-aged people who give up on love and surrender themselves to a life of solitude, Sudokus and ready-meals for one?  Right, well in football terms that was who I was.

England will never hurt me again, because I’ll never allow them to get close enough to be a threat - or at least, that’s been my default position for the last decade.

As Daniel Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck danced in among the Italian defenders in Manaus, I felt very uneasy.  That dreadful combination of fear and anticipation re-emerged in my gut and I found myself desperately hoping that we’d beat the Italians.  Normal and patriotic?  Maybe.  But for me, it was unsettling and it disturbed my apathetic equilibrium: I don’t trust England with my heart and I hate becoming emotionally invested in what they do.

Contrived indifference is one of the great evils of modern life, but in football it can be a wonderfully warm security blanket.  If you’re not rooting for ‘Stevie G’, ‘Welbz’ and ‘Wazza’, then it’s really impossible for their failure to ruin your tournament experience - emotionally, it’s a very secure place to be.

But we tried so hard last night and we played such refreshingly ambitious football.  How could you not celebrate when Daniel Sturridge prodded in that equaliser?  How could you not laugh at the typically English tragi-accident that befell Gary Lewin?  And how could you not want us to succeed?  There was no John Terry or Ashley Cole, there were no odious players whose misfortune you could enjoy - just fourteen committed Englishman doing their very, very best.

I know where this is going and I know how it will end, but unfortunately I find myself outside my comfort-zone and caring just a little more than I thought I would.

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