Old enough to know what will hap­pen

Loughborough Echo - - MIKE LOCKLEY -

I’M old enough to re­alise the Eng­land squad are as use­less as a choco­late fire­guard in Europe.

Oth­ers are not and al­ready there’s a grow­ing le­gion of loyal fans con­vinced this is our tour­na­ment.

Their hopes have been bol­stered by wins over a small Balkan state and a vol­canic Pa­cific island which lists spear-fish­ing as its na­tional sport.

We were also un­lucky to only draw with Vat­i­can City fol­low­ing a con­tro­ver­sial “hand of God” goal. Quite a few spec­ta­tors are con­vinced it was ac­tu­ally The Almighty’s hand.

Those fans and play­ers with three lions on their shirts will be dis­ap­pointed in Rus­sia, I fear. His­tory has shown we will scrape through the early stages be­fore los­ing on penal­ties to one of the warm favourites.

There has only been dis­ap­point­ment since 1966, yet still we live in false hope, hope based on not a scin­tilla of logic.

Be­cause of age and lo­ca­tion, we will not even be en­ter­tained by watch­ing Wayne Rooney - a freck­led in­di­vid­ual who strokes rather than tans – get pro­gres­sively pinker as the World Cup pro­gresses. Thank­fully, we bowed out of ev­ery ma­jor tour­na­ment fea­tur­ing Wayne be­fore he blis­tered. With Rooney no longer an Eng­land reg­u­lar, our hopes rest with Harry Kane and Mar­cus Rash­ford. They are fine footballers, but, like

the rest of the squad, have been trained to sup­press any­thing vaguely in­ter­est­ing when grilled by the media.

The re­sults are pre­dictably dull in­ter­views, with play­ers re­fus­ing to budge from the script. Sadly, the days of Gazza bab­bling are long gone. The point was ham­mered home by my “cliche” count for the last World Cup... • ”It’s about the team”: said seven

times. • ”The lads gave me a bit of stick”: four times.

• ”At this level, there’s no such thing as an easy game”: eight times.

• ”If you don’t take your chances, you’re go­ing to get pun­ished”: five times. I long for a player to sim­ply tell the

TV cam­eras: “We were ab­so­lutely

s***.” At Rus­sia, some­one will en­dure a metatarsal prob­lem. That med­i­cal phrase will be re­peated ad nau­seam, which has al­ways baf­fled Yours Truly. Com­men­ta­tors do not shriek, “he’s clearly feel­ing that glu­teus medius”, so why the in­sis­tence with sur­gi­cal cor­rect­ness when it comes to feet?

The tour­na­ment will also in­tro­duce a new ter­race mu­si­cal in­stru­ment. At South Africa in 2010, it was the in­fer­nal vu­vuzela, which sounded like a swarm of wasps.

This is Rus­sia. Ex­pect games to be played to a sound­track of bal­alaikas.

The din will not faze Eng­land fans who, for decades, have en­dured THAT brass band play­ing “The Great Es­cape”. The num­ber is in­ap­pro­pri­ate:

I can­not re­call a “great es­cape” by Eng­land, only dull draws and fail­ures.

Do our pa­tri­otic mu­si­cians se­lect their place in sta­di­ums on an “I’ll bet that chap would re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate a trom­bone blast­ing in his ear for 90 min­utes” ba­sis?

What joy they must bring to those around them.

Some­one will also find an an­i­mal with the freak­ish gift for pre­dict­ing re­sults, the more ex­otic the crea­ture, the bet­ter. Yes­ter­day, I over­heard an ex­cited sports re­porter telling his boss: “You paint Eng­land colours on one of the white rats, Tu­nisia’s star and cres­cent on the other. Put them in the tank and which­ever one the python crushes first...”

There’s some­thing about a heat­wave – and the pop­u­lar press has con­vinced me we will be in the midst of Sa­hara con­di­tions with­out the dis­com­fort of sand­storms – and a ma­jor sport­ing event that thrusts pa­tri­o­tism to the fore.

Yes­ter­day I was served by a waiter with a Cross of St Ge­orge smeared on his face. It was a Viet­namese restau­rant. A

I was also ap­proached in the beer gar­den of my lo­cal, now fes­tooned in flags, by drink­ing com­pan­ion Colin, his bloated belly spilling dis­obe­di­ently over what ap­peared to be a Union Jack thong.

“Are those,” I asked, “a lit­tle un­com­fort­able?” “Not at all,” he protested be­fore mak­ing hur­ried ad­just­ments. “Sorry, I think I popped out again.”

I at­tempted to make out the blurred leg­end on Colin’s tight T-shirt. “It says, ‘th­ese colours never run’,” he pointed out help­fully, “but the wash­ing ma­chine ru­ined it.”

A ca­reer chron­i­cling Eng­land’s fail­ures has taught me what to ex­pect from this cam­paign. I will be sent to some God-for­saken sink es­tate with more na­tion­al­is­tic ban­ners than a Third Re­ich rally.

“Don’t call me right wing just be­cause I love my coun­try,” said one coun­cil house ten­ant, clutch­ing a can of Ten­nents lager, dur­ing Euro 2016. We watched the flam­ing cross im­paled in his rock­ery spit fire­fly em­bers into the night­sky and toasted to a mem­o­rable win over Ger­many or, as he dubbed them, The Krauts.

That tour­na­ment de­liv­ered a new low for Eng­land. We were dumped out of the com­pe­ti­tion by Ice­land: los­ing

to a su­per­mar­ket is as bad as it gets.

I will be in­vited by res­i­dents to an Eng­land match bar­be­cue that will de­scend into a brawl when our brave lads are beaten.

I will also be tasked with in­ter­view­ing restau­ra­teurs from coun­tries par­tak­ing in the com­pe­ti­tion.

One Mex­i­can eatery has pledged to cre­ate a tor­tilla fea­tur­ing the coun­try’s flag, while a Span­ish chef is, as we speak, craft­ing ap­a­tri­otic paella.

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