Football/Soccer

Club before country (mostly) when it comes to World Cup allegiances

In case you hadn't heard, 'It's Coming Home', folks - maybe...

WHENEVER Manchester United won the Champions League on 'that night in Barcelona' I literally had to go and lie down in a darkened room. My only consolation was that I was off work the next day, but that only delayed the pain of listening to crowing colleagues. 'The Treble' still gets trotted out as a taunt to this day.

So this column certainly isn't going to be a lecture about why you – YOU! – should – SHOULD! - support England in their World Cup semi-final tonight.

Rivalry is a huge part of sporting support, especially on the international stage, particularly between neighbours, notably when it involves countries who have had a, shall we say, chequered past. And, er, enjoy a complicated present.

Supporting choices are complicated too.

The last time England reached the last four of a World Cup I was disgusted at one of my sisters for supporting West Germany in the semi-final; even more so when I asked her why - and she replied that she fancied Lothar Matthaus.

Yet earlier in that tournament I had celebrated a goal against England by running the length of a (very long) bar in England roaring and cheering while wearing a green top. The fact that it was scored by an Evertonian who had left Liverpool in controversial circumstances, capitalising on a mistake by a Liverpool player who had previously been with the Blues, mattered not a jot to me.

This was Ireland against England.

But tonight isn't. Indeed I'll be happy if Gareth Southgate's side make it through to Sunday's decider.

I won't be wearing three lions on my chest - but I won't care in the slightest if England even go on and win it.

Flying home from abroad on Sunday I sat next to a charming Argentinian chap. One guess at what his first name was.

Diego was only two when the marvellous Maradona won the 1986 World Cup almost, ahem, single-handedly.

I was too vain to tell him that I also remembered watching Argentina win their first World Cup in '78.

We chose to converse in English as my Spanish is slightly rusty, and I was expecting very quickly to have to tell him 'No, I'm not actually English…'

However, he had no animus against this England team, even predicting that they would win the World Cup, if not this time then in 2022 in Qatar, due to the age profile of their squad - on average, younger than 26, although even that is skewed upwards, ironically, by the 33-year-old Ashley Young.

Diego's girlfriend, who'd flown home earlier from what was a reunion for his family, might not have been so positive about England, given that she is half-Argentinian/ half-Swedish.

Perhaps living in London for several years had altered the attitude of this Argentinian Diego towards England and their football team.

My own attitudes remain flexible. With the insufferable Roy Hodgson in charge I delighted in their inevitable demise, as I would have done had Sam Allardyce remained as boss.

But…

Some of my best friends are English. Well, one of them is half-Iraqi and spent much of his childhood in the UAE.

Another's dad was second generation Irish and he has a fondness for both Irish soccer sides and the Ireland rugby team.

Another is probably the proudest Englishman of them all – born in Yorkshire, natch – but even he now lives in Wales and is considering representing them internationally (albeit only at marbles).

Another has emigrated to Australia and 'gone native', although I reckon he may re-visit that attitude if England do reach the final.

So they may not be your typical English fans, admittedly. Yet while England's support may have a higher proportion of gobshites than most nations, the majority of them are decent enough types.

People who say that 'the English never stop going on about 1966' are only partly right. They do mention that year a lot – but largely to point out how long it has been since 'the home of football' has won the World Cup, or even the Euros.

Basically they're advertising their own 'failure', bemoaning their overall lack of success. Some of them are even a little shame-faced that their sole such success came on home soil, what's more with all their games taking place at their home ground of Wembley.

I mean, what set of supporters wouldn't admit to some embarrassment about almost always having home advantage, or claim that it was of no help whatsoever..?

If football is coming home then it's long overdue. 'Thirty years of hurt' have become 52.

There are Uruguayans alive who remember their small nation winning the World Cup more times than England.

Diego on the plane had a soft spot for 'La Celeste', largely due to his admiration for Uruguayan legend Enzo Francescoli, a legend at River Plate, the club he supports.

Club ties can be very strong.

Indeed when I wrote that 'I won't care in the slightest if England even go on and win it' that wasn't actually true.

I'd be very happy for Jordan Henderson, the most over-criticised, under-praised midfielder in the world, not least because he'd have progressed past two of the best current midfielders in Croatia's Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic.

I'd be pleased for the wonderful Trent Alexander-Arnold to be part of a World Cup winning squad too.

Heck, I'd even raise a smile for Raheem Sterling, because him becoming a World Cup winner would annoy so many right-wing rags.

Then again, Croatia do have Dejan Lovren – and, unlike this year's other World Cup semi-finalists, they don't have any Manchester United players…

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