England Football Online
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Peter Young
17 February 2002

Wearing England's Red
It's never too late to don England's colours when there's a World Cup to be won



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 Daphne.  

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 mirror.  

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.  

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!