Poised. That’s a good word to describe the mighty England football team right now. Poised between two towering moments in history. This is surely what history is all about, and many hundreds of years from now old men will sit their gawping grand children in front of them and spin a hushed yarn all about Gareth Southgate’s proud, brave lions and that wet, tepid summer when they played with their hearts on their sleeves and their sleeves on their arms and gave England something to be really proud of. And it’s pretty much a win/win kind of a situation, isn’t it? Because by getting through to the final of a major football competition for the first time since 1966 they’ve literally made some history. Since 1966. And if Harry, Raheem and zero hours contract pedicure salon receptionist Jack Grealish manage to conquer the Italians (I hear they’re a bunch of cheating, diving, time wasters so that’s the excuse sorted in advance) on Sunday night then they’ll make some extra, bonus history by winning their first major football competition since 1966. Which was in 1966. All those years ago. When history started.
The mushrooming accomplishments of the England team have suddenly put all the rest of history (technically pre-history, from the perspective of some dimmer fans of English football) into sharp contrast: the moments that we thought were important but now seem trivial or the moments that might have turned on a sixpence if only Jordan Pickford or Mason Mount had been around to sprinkle a bit of their magic fairy dust around. We must remember, for instance, that the Battle of Hastings (I know it was some time in the 1060’s but I can’t quite remember the exact year) wasn’t as simple a victory as the historians would have us believe. We know that Harold was doing pretty well up on that hill to start with, but rather than a tactical error accounting for an eventual capitulation it was in fact the news that England had just lost 3-1 to The Holy Roman Empire in the group stage that caused a huge distraction and an inevitable slump in morale, thus weakening the ranks and allowing William and his pesky Normans to seize the day and fire an arrow right in Harold’s sneaky fucking Anglo Saxon face; the ultimate humiliation.
Other events can also be reassessed in light of what we consider historically important. Not everyone knows that The Great Fire of London was started when a drunken, excessively patriotic baker in Pudding Lane got over excited on hearing the news that England had equalised against The Kingdom Of Sicily and carelessly set off a flare, subsequently causing what is still estimated to be the single most destructive act of football hooliganism since the last ice age. The gilded Armada of 1588 was actually sent to our shores as a very expensive alternative to extra time following a 3-3 draw in their opening match: England made history again that day as it was the first time ever in all of history that they were able to repel an aggressive manoeuvre with 130 galleons by a gang of Spaniards using the 40-50-30 formation. And how has 1346 been forgotten so easily? The year when The Black Death hit Europe had a massive impact on football at the time, with many players fitness in the run up to the competition hugely compromised by shortness of breath, raging temperatures and inflamed buboes, with most teams forced to substitute human beings with dogs and dancing bears just to muster up a squad. It is no surprise that England crashed out to the Fiefdom of Flanders in the round of 16; though some compromise that only five players made it alive to the final, and they were all goal keepers.
But what’s the point in wasting my time with trivial events that drifted about before 1966? Did the industrial revolution matter? Probably not. Could we have got on just as well without the English Civil War? Yes, I imagine we could have. Is it worth studying the The Peterloo Massacre or the repeal of the Corn Laws anymore when we can instead focus on the impact of bringing Marcus Rashford on in the 76th minute? The First World War? World War II? Mere footnotes when there is now a real chance for football to very much ‘come home’. I haven’t looked this up but I imagine that if we win tomorrow most England fans will petition for Gareth Southgate to become Prime Minister and Harry Kane to be made First Lord of the Admiralty. Then we can get to work re-configuring English history altogether and wiping out anything that isn’t as important as winning the World Cup in 1966, because if you’re going to make so much effort to generate new history you may as well scrap some of the old, smelly stuff, just to make a bit more room. Or we could just keep slightly calmer, enjoy it for what it is and leave all the stupid stuff to the wankers in the cancel culture club.
G B Hewitt. 10.07.2021