The author, front row,
second from right, sporting his university colours (blue and gold) in his
last season in 1964, has left it very late to wear England's
red--but he's still in time for World Cup 2002.
This morning I stepped outside my front door
and found a parcel there. My pal Eduard Smit, an avid supporter of
Holland's national team, had told me it was coming but not what was in
it. I was thrilled to find Umbro's classic red England shirt, accompanied by a
card saying it was a belated Christmas present from Eduard and his wife
I've never had an England shirt before and,
though I'm 58, my heart raced as I dashed--some might choose another verb for
the sake of accuracy--to try it on. It's late evening now, and I just
went to the bedroom to check if it was still there. It was, and, of
course, I had to try it on again--in front of a full-length
If I squint my eyes a bit to shut out a few
decades, I can dream of what might--well, should--have been. I was a very fast winger, and Alf would
have put aside his wingless-wonders formation to find a place for me.
Sven would have noted I could play on the left side as well as my usual right
and in a pinch anywhere in between.
With eyes wide open, I feel slightly
self-conscious in England's red, a bit of a fraud, a discomfort I suspect
stems from identifying myself as a player rather than as a fan even though
it's more than 35 years since my competitive career ended. If I remind myself it's
perfectly acceptable these days to wear the shirt as a supporter only, I'll get
over that. Come the World Cup finals, Eduard, in his Dutch orange, will join me
in my England red by the television
set, and, as generous in spirit as he is to his friends, he will cheer for England
with me this time since his team are out of
It will almost certainly end in heartbreak, as
it always has for Eduard although he supports one of the world's strongest
teams and as
it has every four years before and after 1966 for me. The sad yet ineluctable facts
are that only one team can win the World Cup, all the others will lose at some
point in the tournament, and only a small fraction of the world's football fans will escape the
singular pain--that horrible, gut-wrenching, empty despair--that follows their team's defeat at the world's greatest sporting event.
But nothing is certain and there is hope until that
defeat. A fan's hope is eternal, truly indestructible. We refuse to
take in the lessons of the past, no matter how many, no matter how
bitter. We cling to our hope. We thrive on it. It is our
sustenance, it defines us, it is our essence. On, England!