Football's Coming Home This Summer, Just Like My Take Away Pizza


So, England did it. Despite an entire nation insisting they had no expectations going into this tournament (which, in turn, meant that there was no pressure on the team to do well and, thus, meant they could play without fear and just concentrate on their game, without the weight of a tabloid-fuelled fanbase demanding they actually play well. Which, hey, means that they should actually do pretty well then, yeah? So I suppose the least we could hope for is the semi-finals. But yeah, like I said, no expectations.) Roy Hodgson has successfully guided the team into the knockout phases.

Now, we're not the type to get carried away in this country, but as I rode into work on Wednesday morning, Three Lions was playing on the radio. All that “30 years of hurt” stuff, which is actually a lot closer to being 50 years than I can possibly get my head around, started to stir something in me. Something so hopelessly naïve, so blinkered and absurd, so quintessentially English. I'm just going to say it... I think we could go all the way in this tournament.

Don't look at me like that. I can explain.

You see, there's a rich irony in Sunday's quarter-final, because if you had to liken England's performance at this tournament to anything, it would be a cheap Italian restaurant. With enthusiasm at a premium, and an abundance of diminished expectation, the entire country slowly realised that there was the small matter of satisfying their footballing hunger this summer.

So where do you go? You could go to that exciting new sushi place where the food is cooked right in front of you, where you're blown away by how dazzling it all is but you're hungry again by the time you get home (Spain). You could go to that tapas place where there's little bits of everything, all of which is very good and satisfying, but none of it's going to wow you individually (Germany). Or you could go for a big greasy takeaway, which would be great, but you'd hate yourself for enjoying it (Portugal).

No, you're going to go to that cheap Italian place that does the cheap Italian food. Why? Because what's the one universal truth about cheap Italian restaurants that serve cheap Italian food? You absolutely can't beat them.

And so it's proved. A lively France, a plucky Sweden, and a desperate Ukraine all failing to find anything better on the menu than a creamy Hodgson carbonara, or some sort of tagliaTerry. England arrived with the bar so low, fans and pundits alike were happy to sit down, order from the set menu, and get out early enough to beat the traffic, but we've all suddenly realised that we're having a great time here.

I'll walk you through it. You've had more exciting meals, and to be totally honest you think you can do better yourself half the time, but once you really start to look at the menu in this place you suddenly remember how good some of the mains actually are. You remember the first time you ever tasted a pasta like Steven Gerrard, and just how a lasagne like Wayne Rooney has a funny knack of really hitting the spot, despite looking more at home on top of a bin in a Merseyside council estate.

Some of the aperitifs aren't bad either. Even though they're only in a supporting role, bold bruschettas like Andy Carroll, all-purpose minestrones like James Milner, and the sickly sweet gateau of that Danny Welbeck goal are things that would... err... walk... into... um... any... menu? I'm losing it here a bit, but you know what I'm getting at.

While this a probably all the result of the inevitable hangovers and lack of sleep that follow ANY victory at a major tournament, it's worth noting that Roy Hodgson is now one game away from becoming England's most successful manager since Terry Venables in 1996. We've not been as exciting as the likes of Russia, Holland and Croatia, but those three have already asked for their coats and started arguing over how to split the bill.

Imagine it, a semi-final appearance in spite of the fact that he's overseeing a team in a state of mass upheaval, decimated by injury and divided by controversy. That's the sort of achievement worthy of a Lightning Seeds song.

I'm tempting fate here, but if football's anything like this pizza I'm about to order, then it might well be coming home.