Ingerland My Ingerland: A Life in Fifteen Football Games
30th July 1966. England 4, West Germany 2.
We begin with a family holiday in Cornwall. Aged five - and already a bona fide footy fanatic - I was ready for a nap after spending the morning flapping around in the sea, running up and down the beach. I asked my parents to wake me up so I could listen to the final on the radio. They forgot. I look at this moment and think: yes, I have found the point when my life started going off the rails.
14th June 1970. England 2, West Germany 3.
Even at the tender age of 9 I was of the opinion that Alf Ramsey had made a complete balls-up by substituting Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters. Before the match went into extra time I ran to the corner shop to buy sweets. I was in tears and Mrs Patel gave me a free portion of marshmellows and flying saucers to help soothe my impending crisis. ‘Mr Patel is also sometimes prone to tears’ she said, twisting the corners of the white paper bag, ‘especially when he watches the test match cricket.’ But cricket didn’t interest me; football was my game. And somehow I just knew Gerd Muller was going to score the winner.
5th July 1982. England 0, Spain 0
The 1982 world cup largely passed me by. In my early twenties I was more likely to be found with my head in a book written by one of my literary heroes John Updike and Philip Roth. That said, my abiding memory of this match – one of the few I bothered to watch - is of Kevin Keegan twisting and turning with the ball at his feet, and, like Updike’s hero Rabbit Angstrom, going precisely nowhere.
22nd June 1986. England 1, Argentina 2
Four years after the war a little bull-necked genius from the slums of Buenos Aires cast himself as devil, hero and footballing Zeus in the greatest of world cup pantomimes. Why didn’t the England team walk off ? Why didn’t they rugby tackle him to the ground ? Why didn’t they storm the TV gantry and demand the referee watch a replay ? I was dazed and confused for days after. What exactly had I witnessed ? Beauty or cruelty ? Justice or corruption ? The Hand of God or a kiss from the devil ? I’m still not entirely sure.
4th July1990. West Germany 1, England 1 (4-3 penalties)
The late 80s & early 90s were my university years. In January I’d stood in the centre of Manchester watching people hug, shout, cry, and give thanks to their gods as the Wicked Witch tearfully resigned and Hope at last appeared on the horizon. It was a glorious summer. Manchester was Madchester
- a spaced out, tuned-in, trippy world in motion with a soundtrack by The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses. We literary types used to frequent a real ale pub near the campus, a place that was also popular with medical students. A TV was rigged up for the big match and cheese and ham cobs were available at the bar. When Lineker scored I was being fed olives by a budding anaethetist; when Waddle skied his penalty I discovered a finger floating in my glass of beer. We all went to the medical school for a disco afterwards and I remember dancing with the anaethetist to the Smiths’ Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. What happened from that point on is a blur.
26th June 1996. Germany 1, England 1 (6-5 penalties)
I lived in Scandinavia for most of the 90s/early 2000s, part of an ex-pat gang whose nostalgia for the old country seemed to grow with each international football tournament. A young Glaswegian lad, Dan, recently married and with a kiddie, bore the brunt of our gang’s jokery. Ken, an old duffer originally from Croydon, always made a point of saying: ‘It’s a good job
we can speak Danish, Dannie boy, because I can’t understand a fucking word you say when you speak English.’ When Gasgoine scored his famous ‘Dentist’s Chair’ goal Dan retired from our tournament meet ups. He had the last laugh though. The day after England’s defeat in the penalty shoot out I saw him in town along with his wee lad and his pregnant wife. ‘Youse English fucknuggets have’nae got any lead in your pencils’ he shouted. I waved and hurried along. I knew exactly what he meant. England was cursed.
30th June 1998. England 2, Argentina 2 (3-4 penalties)
Ten months earlier, at the end of August 1997, I’d accompanied my son to his Sunday football match. It was the usual early morning rush – up too
late, couldn’t find his kit. When we arrived at the local sports club I took my
place on the sidelines. I was surprised at the concerned looks I was being
given – more so when people came up to me offering their condolences and
speaking in hushed tones about the tragedy of ‘Den Folkens Princess’ (the
People’s Princess). Later that week, Ken came round to watch Diana’s funeral. It was a strangely moving affair. ‘Those two lads, Wills and Harry, they’ll never let anything come between them after this…’ said Ken wiping his eyes. Ten months later, watching Argentina knock England out of the world cup on penalties, we felt neither angry, sad or frustrated. Normal service had been resumed.
20th June 2000. England 2, Romania 3.
The ex-pat gang was beginning to break up. Dan and his five kids had moved to Malmo to be closer to his wife’s parents; I’d been offered a job in the old country and was pondering a move ‘home’; Ken, down on his luck, was spending his days alone drinking Guinness and watching live non league football and heavy truck racing. During the Euros our favourite café-bar,
situated along the river, was crowded with English fans. How they’d ended up in our minor Scandinavian city was anybody’s guess. Against Romania England needed a point; instead they lost to an 89th minute penalty. When the bar’s outdoor wicker furniture was hurled into the river and shop windows along the pretty shopping arcade were smashed to smithereens Ken and I helped Jacob, the owner, and his staff keep the destruction to a minimum before the Politi arrived with their batons and dogs. Unsurprisingly I went into work on Monday morning and was given the cold-shoulder by my colleagues. How could English people do such a terrible thing in our welcoming, well-ordered country ? they asked. I looked hard for an answer. ‘You have to understand: for the English, watching the national football team play is a very stressful experience’ I said – a pathetic response but the best I could come up with.
21st June 2002. England 1, Brazil 2.
I happened to be in Tokyo during the 2002 Japan/Korea World Cup. I didn’t watch any games – I was too busy discovering Japanese culture, a culture that didn’t throw wicker furniture into rivers at the end of football games but rather encouraged spectators to pick up their litter, leaving the terraces cleaner than when they’d arrived. On the day England played Brazil I was climbing Mount Fuji. I calculated that Ronaldinho’s free kick dipped into
the top left hand corner of the England goal just as I reached Mount Fuji’s
fifth station. Such is the strange symmetry that forever links me to the
24th June 2004. Portugal 2, England 2 (6-5 penalties)
I returned to the UK in 2004. After ten years living abroad it took me a while to readjust. Things had changed – people had changed. The economy was thriving, the markets were booming. But I was always conscious of an undercurrent of dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction that seemed to be morphing into intolerance and resentment. On the football pitch Portugal, and their superstar Ronaldo, had taken on the role of England’s new nemesis. Sure
enough, at the 2004 Euros, those pesky Portugese done our boys up like a bunch of kippers.
1st July 2006. England 0, Portugal 0 (1-3 penalties)
The humiliation continued at the 2006 world cup. This time it was Rooney who fell into the Portugese trap. ‘It’s all a conspiracy against the English’ said an irate bloke – a county councillor - at the private members club where I was watching the match. ‘FIFA, UEFA, Ronaldo, the Germans, the EU…they’re all in it together, all intent on stitching us up.’ It was clear to me he was a madman – a paranoid android from the outer reaches of political
tomfoolery. But mad or not, a lot of the people present that evening were in total agreement.
21st November 2007. England 2, Croatia 3.
I watched this match, in which England failed to qualify for the 2008 Euros, in the common room of a very culturally diverse college in Birmingham. At the end of the game a lady of Nigerian heritage, wearing a colourful green dress and elaborate head scarf, stood and declaimed: ‘England is such a wonderful nation. England invented football! You English people should
say to the top dogs who run the football: “We should be given a free pass to
the knockout stages of all competitions in the world because it’s our game!”
That’s what you English people should say!’ She received a hearty round of
applause and I promised her that I’d write to Sepp Blatter at the earliest
27th June 2010. England 1, Germany 4.
The Hand of God. The Dentist’s Chair. Gerd Muller’s thighs. The Wally with the brolley…Now we had Lampard’s Ghost Goal to add to the weird freakery of our collective footballing nightmares. Was there a psychiatrist in the house ? Because after yet another hammering by the Germans we English desperately needed a couch to lie down on and Roth’s Dr Spielvogel to whisper into our ears: ‘Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes ?’
27th June 2016. England 1, Iceland 2.
I didn’t vote in the EU referendum. (I wasn’t ‘pumped up’ enough I guess.) But the irredeemable march towards Brexit, signposted for so many years, finally revealed itself in a crescendo of national schizophrenia on the 23rd of June. On 27th June England were humiliated on the football field by Iceland (FIFA ranking 34th; population 330,000), whose supporters, it seemed, had been flown in from Valhalla for the occasion. I think it’s at this point that I, along with other England supporters of a certain age, began to wonder if we’d ever see the national team triumph in any sort of competition during our lifetimes. Perhaps that’s why resurrecting the Home Nations tournament is now regularly suggested: (England would at least have a 1 in 4 chance of winning.) Or, in celebration of our new non-EU status, we could join countries with a pitiful footballing pedigree for an annual competition (The UAE, Bahrain, Quatar and England Desert Cup. Surely to God we could win that!)…
But wait…what’s this ? An unexpected run to the semi finals of the world cup in 2018…beating Germany 2-0 in the knock out phase of Euros 2021…and now reaching our first major cup final since 1966!...oooh er, missus…Perhaps we’re not such a nation of plonkers after all, eh Rodders…eh Uncle
Albert ? Perhaps it really is coming home, innit ?
11th July, 2021. England v Italy.
Well, who would have thought it. Semi-retired now, on Sunday I’ll be squeezing into my Bobby Moore No 6 England shirt in expectation of a famous victory. It might all go horribly wrong of course. After all, we’re up against the fiesty Italians…but, we love the Italians, right? Fellini,Verdi, that guy Chiellini…the sartorial elegance of Mancini…Anita Eckberg in the Trevi Fountain – what’s not to like ?...they’re already odds on to win 1st prize for best national anthem…But even if we do lose, at least we’ll have been contenders…at least we’ll be able to say that we are more than adept at this beautiful game we gifted to the world. I just hope that on Sunday, unlike Cornwall in 1966, I manage to stay awake!