Chris Lakey: We’re hanging out the leg of English uncertainty
Warning: the following text includes reference to body parts.
Dangly bits, like hands and legs, in particular those of two goalkeepers.
The left leg of England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and the right hand of his Colombian counterpart, David Ospina.
You probably know the story by now: England and Colombia go to a penalty shootout after their World Cup round-of-16 KO game finishes 1-1 after 120 minutes. Jordan Henderson’s right-footed penalty is saved by the right hand of Ospina, but when Pickford’s left hand keeps out Bacca’s penalty, England are in the quarter-finals.
It is a result which has turned this country football-mad. Nothing else matters: it’s prime time for the government to bury some bad news deep under the pile of national fervour... in fact, you could sneak Donald Trump into the country and parade him up and down The Mall, and we probably wouldn’t notice. Even Brexit is struggling to get a look-in... oh for a World Cup every month.
And all because of Jordan Pickford’s hand.
On fine margins rest the hopes of a nation. Had his hand been just an inch or two higher or lower, we would be planning this afternoon just like most others. “Fancy a trip to Morrisons?” “Why not? Nowt else to do.”
Instead, England is likely to come to a virtual standstill (not in the simulated sense). On Tuesday, more than 24m couch potatoes watched England play Colombia ... probably enough for ITV to fund a couple of decent programmes.
The following morning on the way to work, drivers were honking their hooters in recognition of England’s efforts, of Pickford’s left hand.
Forgive me for mentioning that dangly bit again, but the margin between national ecstasy and mourning was that fine. England were arguably the better team over the 120 minutes (note: this is a completely unbiased and considered assessment), but it all came down to two men, standing between some sticks, having a ball fired at them from 12 yards and attempting to keep it out. The general average of successful penalties is 75pc.
Pickford is England’s youngest ever World Cup keeper, the majority of the 44,000-plus supporters are on Colombia’s side and, as pundit Gary Neville said when asked about penalty shoot-outs “you might as well ask a concert pianist how it feels - it is impossible to describe”.
Gary Neville should have asked me (and millions more I guess): I know what it was like, I was living it. I was in the head of every England penalty taker and every time a Colombian stepped up, I was Jordan Pickford.
This is England in the World Cup, living on a knife edge, as we all are. Being an England fan is great, when it’s over.
I’ve turned away from the TV set too many times in the past, having restrained myself from throwing something at it in disappointment and anger.
I’m not sure, but I think there was almost a part of me on Tuesday night that wanted to end the madness, to call a halt to it before we all exploded. To accept the inevitability of England losing another penalty shootout before it even got to that stage. To say, “well done, Colombia. You were a horrible, nasty, shouty mob, but you are through and our agony is over. It’s all yours now”.
That’s treason, I know, but this is almost like death by a thousand cuts. We’ve been here, seen that, wore the tear-stained T-shirt. Gazza’s tears, Southgate, Pearce, Batty, Waddle, Ince, Lampard, Carragher, Gerrard. Madarona’s raised dangly bit (you know what I mean). Jorge Larrionda (who disallowed Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany at the 2010 World Cup). Germany (various offences).
Following England is a painful experience. Paul Chesterton, the man who photographs Norwich City games for us, is in Russia covering the World Cup. After Pickford’s save he said his hands were shaking with nervous tension.
Dangly bits do that at times like that. Thank goodness some have control.