Coming Home


Hell's bells, we've (that's England) only gone and done it! Won a quarter final in the World Cup, with a stand-out performance from one of our own.

Back home indeed, but still in holiday mode (to be honest, when am I not?), and still filling in the World Cup Wallchart. You know you're back on home soil when, during the last mile or so of your journey, you see at least three people you'd gladly have incarcerated for life, but not so this year. Arrival was confirmed, however, by reports of someone as high as John McPhail's shorts trying to put money into the controls on a pedestrian crossing. Ah, Bish, how I've missed you, and the sights and sounds that have been absent these last two and a bit weeks - young mothers merrily and loudly swearing at their offspring, the wail of police sirens, the shopping trolleys. Just like most places, in fact. The scenery might be very different to the far south west, but there were three envelopes on the mat bearing Sunderland postmarks, and that could only mean three things - Darlo, Hartlepool, and Grimsby. Sorted.

Of course, there was still World Cup duty, and I took in the France v Uruguay game in the relaxed atmosphere of Caps Off, where several strange social media conversations took place - until I realised that, as we were watching a streamed version, we were a couple of minutes behind real time. Never mind, the French duly saw off the Uruguayans, who'd tried their best to break Mbappe, and produced a moment of goalkeeping that even last season's Sunderland trio would have struggled to match. I had a vision of the three of them sitting together watching the game, pointing at each other, and saying "that's you, that is" before dropping their Lucozade (other sports drinks are available).

That left only Brazil representing South America, and, and, as we waited for Maradona to demand the earlier game be replayed, we wondered if the samba boys would actually turn on some style. Their tactic so far had been to pass it about at the back, then give it to Neymar, who'd walk down the left touchline, draw a challenge, and roll the length of the pitch. The Belgians proved far too strong for most, showing that if you play your own game, and run at them, the Brazilians don't like it and find it difficult to handle. The slightly more football-oriented crowd in the Hoss seemed slightly biased towards the Belgians, but I don't think they'd have been too upset to see the Brazilians score. An own goal and a beaut from de Bruyne put the Walloonatics almost out of sight, but the game wasn't over.

There was no rolling about from Neymar, although there was plenty of falling down, and he might even have had a penalty had he not cried wolf so often in previous games. A very European header (remember, Brazilians can't head the ball) from Augusto made the last 15 minutes a bit tense as Brazil suddenly remembered that they're supposed to be canny good at football, but Belgium should have been comfortably home by then. As with the other South American teams, I have mixed feeling about their departure. Slightly sad for the genuine players like Will I An and Coutinho, but glad to see the back of Marcello, one of those players who believes he can do what he wants but nobody has the right to do it to him. We await Maradona's complaints about this game, but seriously - FIFA pay him to be an ambassador, and he's repaid them by having to constantly excuse his behaviour. Apparently, his first display of childishness was the result of being drunk, and his post-England v Colombia rant was because he was a bit emotional. Nowt to do with being one of the chief importers of Colombia's most (in)famous product. No doubt he'll be at the England game in an oversized Sweden shirt, the big fatty.

The biggest England game for years, even though it's "only" a quarter-final, had probably grown to the size it is because of the way the team and the management have gone about their business. My mind might be getting fuzzy, but I don't remember feeling this sort of connection with the national team since I watched them beat Spain (in a Spanish bar in Florida. I pick my places) and I'm not alone. Mebbe it's to do with having two Lads in the starting eleven who I've watched since they were kids dreaming of being footballers, but I normally only get this nervous before big Sunderland games (I know, it's been a while). I'll admit that the "It's coming home" ringtones are driving Judith mad, but it had to be done. Will Sterling come good? Will Alli get his form back? Will we see another save like the most replayed save since Monty's heroics?

Anyhow, fortified with strictly non-holiday food (pie, mushy peas, chips cooked in buffalo fat, half a pint of gravy) at the Rio Bar, followed by complimentary cake and prosecco to celebrate their 50th anniversary, it was off to the Big Event at the Green Tree - passing a young lad in full Germany kit with Muller on the back, but no shoes. Nowt surprises me about my home town any more, especially not the sound of folks singing "It's coming home" either in the comfort of their own homes or out on the street. The Tree was mobbed, it was hot, and England did what they needed to do, showing strength at set-pieces at both ends. Maguire, Hurley-like, opened things up, and when Alli nodded in a cross that even I would have put away, the floor nearly went through as a packed pub leapt as one in celebration. We'd held off Toivonen and Seb, Hendo had settled into a steady game, covering the whole pitch and being the springboard for most attacks, but the Fatfield Flyer was something else. A couple of outstanding saves, the usual deadly distribution, and a calm commanding of his box must put him up there with the world's best. The town was bouncing with Three Lions songs, there'll be a few sore heads in the morning, by which time we'll know whether the Russian bear has roared past the clever Croats.

Me? Planning for Wednesday, and basking in the general mood of happiness. This evening's commitments mean that I can't join the celebrations until much later, by which time it'll be hilarious watching the plight of those who've been at it since before three o'clock.

Happy days

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