Unicorns, chickens … none of this was real

Simon Burnton on 12 July 2018

WAS THERE A TIMEFRAME ON WHEN IT WOULD COME HOME?

And so, it was all a dream. We should have known, really, when our visions started to include footballers riding unicorns, or flinging bright blue rubber chickens at each other. None of this was real. Britons scavenging their wardrobes for pairs of shorts and flip-flops to wear day after pitiless, scorching day of unbroken sunshine, and hauling themselves to big screens where jubilant hordes flung beer in the air and over themselves and each other in carefree celebration. None of this was real, and it never could be. The sun did not shine, the net did not bulge, the rubber chicken was not tossed, the beer was never airborne.

We awoke, shaken and confused, to the words of Luka Modric, crowing after yet another predictable English World Cup elimination, talking of a nation that “underestimated Croatia and that was a huge mistake”. He went on: “People were talking … English journalists, pundits from television. All these words from them we take, we were reading and we were saying: ‘OK, today we will see who will be tired.’ They should be more humble and respect their opponents more.”

Yep, that sounds like miserable, familiar reality alright. Same old England, forever powered by hype and hostility. But in our dream the team was waved from these shores in hope rather than expectation, their limitations evident and acknowledged, their humility unexpected and enchanting. This was not a normal England team, full of swagger and stardust. Success was grafted for, not granted. The team in our dream had done away with celebrity. Goldenballs out, Slabheads in. Mind, people known as Slabhead don’t win the World Cup. They don’t even win the pub quiz. But they can stand tall and strong, they can push themselves to the limit, they can show the world that, with the right spirit, the right friends and the gift of an outsized cranium, anything, or very nearly anything, is possible.

The morning after, Kyle Walker was still living the dream, or at least a version of it. He spoke of existing in “a time where sometimes it’s easier to be negative than positive, or to divide than to unite”, and urged the nation to “keep this unity alive”. Sure, football isn’t coming home quite yet, but maybe, in the words of a tune that has been stuck in The Five?’s head of late as we have lain, feverish and clammy, living this bizarre footballing fantasy, it can make us whole again. And with that Walker climbed once more upon his trusty horned steed, clung tightly to its rainbow mane, and rode off into the sunset.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“England were knocked out by the future world champions. [They] were unbelievably inferior” – TV presenter Joska Jelicic dials the hubris up to 11 as Croatia get their celebrations on. Don’t tell Luka.

Next stop: France in the final. Well, after England Reserves v Belgium Reserves II, that is.
Next stop: France in the final. Well, after England Reserves v Belgium Reserves II, that is. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Here’s the latest World Cup Football Daily podcast, with Max Rushden and co, and you can find it in this general area every matchday evening.

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FIVE? LETTERS

“OK, so it’s not. Can we just leave it now?” – Martin Foster.

“Can anyone advise how you say ‘Lads, it’s England’ in Croatian?” – Flavio L’Abbate.

“Is it too early to note that, in the end, Argentina lost to the two finalists? I would pause, but on the other hand experts need to start figuring out how that shambles of a team managed to put three past them. Two assists from Messi may have something to do with it but, really, this is a World Cup we will love to reflect on for ages. With all the upsets and twists we will be oh so wise to see coming in hindsight and dissect them to death, but deep down we will know it only makes sense because it’s football and we don’t really want it to make sense all the time, not as long as we can cherish it and get mad over it and cry over it. It’s bloody brilliant” – Maria Barletta.

“I appreciate there are other things to talk about, but yesterday’s witty letter from Hubert O’Hearn about Charles II developing the waistcoat later popularised by successful/useless/unlucky Gareth Southgate and losing his head – slight issue that it was his dad Charles I who was executed. Charles II died of old age” – Dan Levy (and 1,056 others).

“Surprised the takeover of seven-time European champions Milan by an American hedge fund didn’t merit a bit or a bob. Slow news day? Tick. Ability to say USA! USA!! USA!!!? Tick. Potential link to 2,000 despairing words on The Utter State Of Things? Tickety-tick. If only they were a lower-division English club” – Christopher Smith.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And if you’ve nothing better to do you can also tweet The Fiver. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day and, with it, a copy of World Cup Nuggets by Richard Foster is … Maria Barletta.

BITS AND BOBS

“You have to suffer the result a little bit – but I’m hugely proud of what they’ve done.” Trust Gareth Southgate to sum up England’s defeat in Moscow in a nutshell. Those sentiments were echoed by Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and plenty more on assorted social media disgraces.

Hopefully not his lookalike.
Hopefully not his lookalike. Photograph: Michael Zemanek/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

Dejan Lovren is getting giddy and just in time for a date with Kylian Mbappé’s shadow. But he also has time for this zinger: “We went through a lot of $hit: war, all these things, and even now the situation is not the best. But it is unbelievable how many talents we have in sport. We have good mothers and fathers, making good love.”

One lucky snapper got some of the best shots of the Ethics World Cup – after getting bundled by the Croatian squad following Mario Mandzukic’s winner.

Non-World Cup dept: Fulham have signed Rumour Mill favourite Jean Michaël Seri and his Nice team-mate Maxime Le Marchand in a deal worth more than £30m, while Newcastle have re-signed Kenedy on loan from Chelsea.

And non-World Cup dept II: domestic football is back with a bang, baby, as $tevie Mbe leads the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers into Big Vase qualifying battle against Macedonia’s FK Shkupki.

STILL WANT MORE?

Paul Doyle reports from ringside after Roy Keane and Ian Wright continued a fine tradition of World Cup punditry bust-ups.

Great pay-off in there too.
Great pay-off in there too. Photograph: ITV

Croatia deserved their victory but England will come back stronger, reckons Dominic Fifield.

France are in the final against a team that pipped a home nation to come through the weaker half of the draw. Is it Euro 2016 again? David Hytner doesn’t think so.

Barney Ronay takes an emotional look back at England’s World Cup journey.

“Losing is something we know all about here” – Sunderland fans reflect on England and ‘J-Force’ bowing out.

Stuart James dishes out his player ratings from the Luzhniki.

Know your Goleos from your Fulecos? Take on our World Cup mascot quiz.

Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

SLEEP BECKONS

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