In England, A Nation Conditioned To World Cup Failure Is Starting To Believe

Updated: 09 July 2018 08:51 IST

Harry Maguire and Dele Alli scored as England comfortably defeated Sweden 2-0 in Samara on Saturday to reach the World Cup semi-finals.

In England, A Nation Conditioned To World Cup Failure Is Starting To Believe
England comfortably defeated Sweden 2-0 to reach the World Cup semi-finals. © AFP

There is room for all at The Elbow Room, a small neighborhood pub in the multilingual, multiethnic goulash that is north London. Amid England's improbable march to the semifinals of soccer's World Cup for the first time in 28 years, a singular refrain has united all: "It's Coming Home!" The chorus of a 1996 pop song has been joyfully repurposed for this moment, as England, which considers itself the birthplace of soccer, makes a credible run at the 2018 World Cup championship. It's an occasion many long-suffering England fans believed they'd never see in their lifetime.

But the possibility moved closer Saturday afternoon - after a masterful header by Harry Maguire and another goal from Dele Alli followed 29 minutes later in a 2-0 shutout of Sweden that sent England into the World Cup's final four (alongside Croatia, which it will meet in Wednesday's semifinal; France and Belgium face off Tuesday).

In that euphoric moment, as cheers erupted in pubs and outdoor-viewing parties from Birmingham to Portsmouth, a national psyche that has elevated girding-for-the-worst to an art form was suddenly delirious with optimism and consumed by World Cup fever.

"It's Coming Home! Everyone's singing it now," said Glen Dale, 49, who on Sunday occupied roughly the same spot at the bar of The Elbow Room as he has for each one of England's matches since the tournament began.

"What Gareth Southgate has done is nothing short of a miracle! He's nothing short of a miracle!" Dale gushed of the squad's 47-year-old manager, now a national hero for forging a championship contender from youngsters he'd nurtured as former head of England's under-21 team. "In less than two years, he has totally transformed the national [team]."

On Sunday, Londoners reveled in it all via triumphant headlines.

"Mamma Mia! Maybe It Really IS Coming Home!" the (London) Mail proclaimed.

"We've Done It Now. Bring on Croatia!" crowed the Observer.

And the Sunday Telegraph blared, "Onwards! England March into Semis"

Saturday's quarterfinal brought commerce in London to a virtual halt - or at least commerce not directly linked to a pub or a pint. Shops and cafes around the country suddenly found themselves short-staffed just hours before the 3 p.m. kickoff.

Brides lamented planning their weddings on July 7. Who could have foreseen this?

Many fans honored prior commitments but with a sulk, as did the man photographed in the stands at Wimbledon with a hand-lettered sign that read: "I Would Rather Be Watching Football. Come on England!"

As for Wimbledon's countless security guards, stewards, ushers, groundskeepers and cafe-servers, those who showed up for work were forced to monitor the quarterfinal surreptitiously, as did one security guard on a side court, who kept one eye on his mobile phone, which streamed the match via BBC iPlayer, and another on the queue.

Meanwhile, the John Lewis department-store chain reported a run on large-screen TVs. The Marks & Spencer chain has seen a 35 percent spike in the sale of waistcoats (tailored suit vests) that it attributes to "the Southgate effect." (England's manager wears a tailored shirt, tie and waistcoat for every game.) A social media campaign has declared "Waist-coat Wednesday," calling on British fans to wear vests for the semifinal, too.

And Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is advocating a bank holiday if England wins the World Cup. He is among the few old enough to remember the nation's last world championship in 1966 and the joy it brought the country.

There was scant World Cup fever in Britain when the tournament began just three weeks ago.

The hopes of England fans had been dashed too often and too bitterly in previous World Cups, as lavishly compensated managers and internationally celebrated players such as David Beckham and Wayne Rooney fizzled once they donned an England jersey. A constellation of sporting superstars doesn't necessarily gel into a team.

By contrast, England's 2018 squad is young, cobbled together from players of humble origins and diverse backgrounds, who had plied their trade on patchy pitches for little-known clubs. Led by a manager who had come up the humble way, too, no one expected much once play got underway in Russia.

"England were 14 to 1 [to win the tournament] before the World Cup," noted Dave McGlynn, 54, a regular at The Elbow Room "A lot of people - myself included-bet Spain."

Today, England fans are betting and cheering their own.

The pride runs especially deep in the district of Tottenham. Five of the 23-man England squad play for Tottenham Hotspur. Pub-goers speak with parental pride as they list them: Harry Kane, the 24-year-old captain; Eric Dier, author of the penalty kick in the shootout against Colombia; Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose and Alli.

"[Southgate] got rid of what I call the Big-Time Johnnies," said Dale, who cheers the team's diverse composition. "Now, what has happened, he has made it more a thing of the people."

That's partly why The Elbow Room was packed Saturday and will be again Wednesday.

Come Sunday, when Dale fully expects England to end its 52-year title drought, he and his mates will switch from pints to "the shorts," swapping glasses of cider, lager and bitter for shot glasses of the vodka, whiskey and rum stored on the high shelves behind the bar.

"People will be drinking things with flames coming off!" Dale said.

A few blocks away, not far from the Spurs' new stadium, Tom Greatorex, 37, is parked at the bar of The Beehive, his neighborhood pub of choice, and already thinking about how thrilling winning the World Cup will be.

"We don't have a great deal to be proud about at the minute because we've got a terrible government that doesn't speak for the people; it certainly doesn't speak for working-class people," said Greatorex, an art teacher in the borough of Hackney. "But now we've finally got something to be proud about: We've got this amazing team that is full of people of other races and different backgrounds. To me, that's what Britain is all about. Britain is not about being British; Britain is about bringing everybody in and loving everyone. That's what this country is built on, and that's what this team is built on."

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
Topics mentioned in this article England England Sweden Sweden 2018 FIFA World Cup Football Sweden vs England, Quarter-Final 3
  • England comfortably defeated Sweden 2-0
  • Harry Maguire and Dele Alli scored for England
  • England reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990
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