It’s hard to describe the feeling of supporting England during a glorious World Cup campaign. Most of us have only known misery or heartbreak, often both. I can only say it’s taken on something of the feel of a religious experience.
We began in doubt. Before the tournament, not one single person I know believed England would do well in Russia. Too many times we had been let down, most terribly by losing to Iceland in the Euros two years ago.
The last minute winning goal in the first match against Tunisia opened people’s hearts to the idea that we might again be able to trust and love an England team.
The thrashing of Panama was a joyous experience. A rampant three lions team! Then the loss to Belgium required us to listen to the sages who told us it was all part of a plan: we were now “on the easier side of the draw… Gareth wanted it so... The easier route to the final...”
The “miracle of Moscow”, England winning a World Cup penalty shoot-out for the first time ever, converted millions of remaining unbelievers. For those of us who watched it, it has become a rite of passage. “I thought we might have blown it but somehow I knew we would come through...”
Now, after navigating the quarter finals against Sweden, the nation believes. We all sing from the same hymn sheet. “Football is Coming Home”, we say.
It’s strange that we only sing that one song. I have followed England teams before. I was in Japan in 2002 and Portugal in 2004 and we sang many songs, taunting the Argentinians, the Germans and the Scots (one day I will explain the last). We called on God to “put St George in my heart, keep me English” amid many other things. But in 2018, we only sing that “Football is coming home.”
That song was originally from 1996, when England hosted the Euros. The idea was that England “invented” football so, by our hosting a major tournament, football had returned to its home.
Now, however, the same song has a changed meaning: by winning football’s ultimate prize, England will reassert its special claim as the sport’s spiritual home.
After the Sweden game, I walked through London with a friend, both wearing our England shirts. Other fans stopped us to exchange words. “It’s coming home,” they would say. “It is. It is coming home,” we replied. “Is it coming home?” a man asked us, as if it were a ritual from a church service. “Indeed, it is coming home,” we intoned.
At the pub later, I nearly bumped into a man on the stairs. Instead of the traditional exchange of “sorry mate, after you”, we realised in that split second we were both wearing the same red England shirt (2004 vintage) and instead nodded to one another and said: “It’s coming home.”
For truly we are blessed. English by the grace of God.