England update- and Hell's teeth it was mad. We broke the mould and won on penalties, two former Sunderland boys did the country proud, and moved England to the next stage.
Two strange things happened on Monday. Firstly, I managed to order a coke without causing the staff to refer to Google translate (probably due to my impersonation of Hugh Grant as I ordered), and secondly someone talked to me about football. Not the World Cup, which has of course happened over the last two weeks as opinions have been given, dissected, and countered as various folks shared tables to watch various games, but about Sunderland. It's not as if I go around "merched-up" like a Christmas tree, but there are certain clues in my appearance and clothing that can, on occasion, give the game away. Last year it was a lady who saw my SAFC T-shirt as said "ooh, Sunderland, brave man", as if supporting a team that didn't win a trophy every season was worthy of both a George Cross and a bit of condescension.
This year, it was a bloke on the boat who asked, "are you looking forward to next season?" I had him down as Man U, as his accent was more Danny Dyer than Johnny Vegas, but he and his wife were Preston North End through and through and knew their stuff. Well, I thought they did until they assured me that we were far too big and good for League One. Mebbe they're right. Let's hope they're right. Let's hope new signings Dylan McGeouch (pronounce that if you dare) and Ozturk are joined by a few others of the right ilk before the season starts… and along came Reece James at left back. Welcome aboard, mate.
As suggested above, it was more sunshine and boats, but that's not all that goes on. Well, it is almost, but bear with me… for instance, the public toilets are twinned with pubic toilets in Afghanistan and central Africa, and if you, like me, enjoy spending time staring through optics at feathery creatures, there's more than enough to keep you happy. Doing what you want, when you want, is what holidays are all about, and when a Hobby (that's a small falcon - keep up at the back, there'll be questions later) zips past your ear at forty miles an hour - well, let's just say it was the birding equivalent of a Richardson free-kick, and it had me grinning like a fool for some hours.
Of course, there's the beer as well, but that's another story. When we got back to the main island, we popped in for a pint at the Mermaid, as you do, and discovered a Colombian, whose mate took a call from Glasgow - where Colombian shirts are apparently the latest fashion item. Well, it's not as if kilts have been that common at World Cup finals of late, so let them have their bit of fun.
As far as the World Cup went, Brazil had just enough special about them to get the better of Mexico, who had enough of the ball but just not enough sparkle when it counted. As for Neymar, he just keeps rolling, and rolling, and rolling… surely a card for more than two would stop such nonsense, as he's obviously not bothered about a global audience of tens of millions watching his histrionics. Great footballer, but what a tosser - noodles on people's heads is the least of his embarrassments. Just be a footballer, eh? Then came the next instalment in the general craziness that is Russia 2018. Japan went for it and got themselves two goals ahead, and most of the world thought that yet another upset was on the cards. Three goals from the Belgians, including an injury-time winner, put paid to that, made for a cracking game, and added to the weight of opinion that says this is the best World Cup in memory. Ain't football fun?
As our new Colombian friend strolled along the prom in his bestest Colombian "away" top (obviously, a yellow one would have been taking it a bit far), Switzerland and Sweden decided that there'd been enough craziness and conspired to produce a game that was more entertaining to follow via Ceefax than on TV until the latter stages. There might have been a fair few shots, but the vast majority were off target, it took an OG to put Seb and Ola ahead, and they replaced their attack with defenders to protect their slender advantage towards the end. Plenty of late Swiss pressure ramped up the tension, but all they got was a man sent off as VAR denied Sweden a penalty, and the game ended with Toivonen shooting the free-kick into the wall.
And so, the stage was set for England's biggest game since the last biggest game. Back to the First Eleven. Back to Life. Back to reality. Packed into the Scillonian, there was a Swiss gadgie flying his nation's flag and wearing the shirt, there was a Spurs shirt, there was a West Ham shirt, and a Sunderland shirt, which might have been mine. As the game went on, our Ian described it as the footballing equivalent trying get a pint in Bishop on Boxing Day, as Colombia decided to wrestle their way towards the whistle. The inevitable penalty came and went, Ali and Sterling had another unproductive game, Hendo made a meal of being the nuttee then turned into the nutter, the ref was overworked, but missed a couple of chances to assert his authority, then the inevitable happened. Again, our Ian called it, in slightly choicer language, as he claimed that England had Sunderlanded the Hell out of the game, with Pickford's late, late save turning into a corner that was headed home.
There's easy ways to do things, and there's hard ways. Vardy was on the field, and the precious few times he got the ball (thanks, Hendo) he actually made Ospina work, but it wasn't enough. You all know the score, you've seen it all before, and I had a nasty feeling about Jordan 1's penalty (which is easy to say after he event) but when Jordan 2 put his hand in the air like he just don't care (but knows where the ball is going) to deflect the crucial shot to safety, the Scillonian roof came off. That extra 30 minutes might have tired us out, but we were only watching, and the sense of relief was palpable as those in the Gazza, Lineker, Moore, and Beckham shirts reprises their antics of a few days ago. No, they didn't nick a bike, but they could be heard carousing late into the night.
And why not? Bring on Seb and Ola. What fun.
...and now for the thoroughly unpleasant business if socks, long trousers, and the journey home. Cheers, you Scilly buggers, it's been the usual blast