On Whatsapp, the atmosphere was built all afternoon. Since the first days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as many identical videos have been transmitted as many times.
The days of the world moving inside, its meaning reduced to little more than changing shapes and colors on screens, are now passing, but they are not yet over. The most certain barometer of the rise in national tensions remains the growing volume of Whatsapp notifications.
In this decisive and patiently awaited moment of national cultural reality, what says more about who or what we are? Are these really hymns mumbled in the spooky June rain? Is it Che Adams watching fate fly in the wrong direction from his strained shin?
Or is it a slightly fat, very drunk and not very proficient breakdancing Scotsman in a kilt and absolutely nothing more, diving onto the floor of a Jubilee Line car to execute the worm, much to his friends’ delight? waving their phones? Really, I am not happy to report that more than one worm was clearly visible.
Once upon a time there were those things that were described as ‘not safe for work’, but no one goes to the office anymore, so if you want your friends to film you, press absolutely all your flesh against the speckled linoleum floor of the London Under. land, it’s probably good on almost every level.
A year of madness has almost extinguished the glow of the volatile times we live in. To be baffled is to be expected, as there was almost nothing strange about watching the news channels broadcast live from the glorious sun-bathed fan zones of Glasgow’s parks as Glasgowians dived Klinsmann in the epic puddles of a flooded Leicester Square.
There was more tension on the pitch than on the phone, in the end, especially since Scotland should have won.
Cynics may have noticed, as tension built, that almost everyone’s rather disappointing 24-team format decimated what was really at stake here. Absurdly, it is still far too early to say whether winning, losing or drawing was the most advantageous result for England in this historic game, even if such ambiguity was present for their opponents.
Last week, Gareth Southgate wrote an article on what it means to play for England, and his opening paragraph talks about the unique opportunity to create moments a nation will remember forever. Southgate is English but the sentiment is universal. We can remember where we were when Gazza passed the ball over Colin Hendrie’s head, so the theory goes.
Personally, after seeing the clip somewhere about 10,000 times over the past week, the original has been erased from my mind. When the brain plays back a memory, it doesn’t play the original but the last time it played it back, then overlays it with that version. That’s why, if you’re still good friends with your classmates, the memories of the time come back to your mind with the faces of 40 years old and the actual photographs retain the power to shock.
If Reece James had not wisely placed his head between the ball and England’s goal, Lyndon Dykes could have spent his life willingly spreading under the consciousness of a nation, only to be watered forever in endless layers of this soft and sweet lacquer of nostalgia. But it is not and it will not.
Bold enemies are truly enemies these days. England voted for Brexit. Scotland did not. And because of that, Scotland could still make its own exit. There is no point in pretending that our issues with each other are really, really friendly. I can’t say because I had already noticed the lyrics of the third verse of Oh Flower of Scotland a lot. “Those days are gone now, and in the past they must stay. For a few hundred years they did, but not anymore.
At the end of an exciting but ultimately disappointing evening for all concerned, do we even dare to say that football is the biggest advertisement for the union that you can find? TeamGB finished second in the last Olympics, as the evidence for half a century is that England alone cannot mix it up with the greats. Scotland can hit their weight, pretty much, but it’s not their fault, it’s a lightweight.
Most of Europe’s World Cup victories have come about because one of the big European clubs transposed its identity into the national team of the day. Juventus won two World Cups in the 1930s. Bayern Munich did the same in 1974. It was Barcelona’s philosophy (albeit the gift of a Dutchman) that conquered everything in 2010. Ajax never won but made two finals in the 1970s.
The big British clubs have never succeeded. They have always been a short film by Kenny Dalglish or Ryan Giggs. The tallest of all, Manchester United, has just five men immortalized in bronze around their stadium, all of them British, but only one English.
What glorious summer memories could Best, Law and Charlton have brought to the nation, if given the opportunity? What could Sir Alex or Sir Matt have done with a sparkling group of world-class talent from all over the kingdom? Could the Celts conquering Liverpool of the 1980s conquer the world in red, white and blue? We’ll never know. Would anyone dare to think that it is a pity that this is so?