In 1998’s hit movie Sliding Doors, the premise of the thing is that there is a moment when time bifurcates. Gwyneth Paltrow’s character misses a tube train or doesn’t, and from there her life is wildly altered. I forget now what caused it – did she trip or something? It doesn’t matter; the point is that it was something incredibly small that made profound changes to everything else in her life.
Now imagine that HARRY KAAAANE (sorry, I must have started using the Sky commentary style guide by mistake) had put his big chance in, or England’s marking had been just that little bit sharper, or… or…
Yes, people, here we are. The weekend nobody wanted. Instead of breathless anticipation and a long Sunday in the pub, we have the irrelevant 3rd Place Final and a Sunday spent watching two teams who aren’t England in the darkened living rooms of our own homes, feeling that we could have beaten either France or Croatia, if only we’d actually beaten Croatia. Coming Home has definitely morphed into the negative cousin of If Not, Now When?, or even the dark, sour We Weren’t Good Enough, We Were Just Lucky.
If the earlier part of the World Cup was a period of permutations, this is the time of increasing recriminations, as more and more teams are beaten and sent home, wondering what might have been if only Gwyneth Paltrow had stayed at work and taken all the chances life offered her, instead of depending on Fate. Or something.
Column miles have been spent in the newspapers and on social media, and endless, endless hours spent with TV pundits, all trying to unpick what went right and what went wrong. Has this been a very close run thing, with an England team of callow youth producing the second/third best England performance of all time at a World Cup (who said that game on Saturday was pointless, eh?)? Or were England in danger of complete over-hype, having just about got past Tunisia and Panama, stuffed it up against Belgium B, needing penalties to get past Colombia (etc). Were they on their way to winning the World Cup via a series of games that might not have daunted the five-a-side team you turn out for when it’s not too cold?
Opinions, it seems, have sliding doors of their own. Well, here at StrawberrySocial, we’ve dusted ourselves down, thrown out the empties and washed up the glasses, so we’re ready for What’s Next?
After all, as we’ve been bleating about since Russia started the whole thing off, there was always likely to be a time when we’d have to change tack dramatically. It has been instructive to watch professionals (and Ian Wright) do it, but it’s rarely my advice that you should follow the precedent of English media, and I don’t propose to start now. Accept that England’s race is run, and move on. It’s never too early to break out predictions for 2022 after all.
Sunday’s final will still be a fantastic event, and hopefully will give us a game to remember, assuming France manage to remember that sport is a form of entertainment. Normally, I would expect a lot of people in the UK to support Croatia, following the principle of backing the plucky underdog, but – and here’s a social media tip for Dejan Lovren – you can’t be both the plucky underdog and the greatest in the world. Amazingly, France, who have glorious form when it comes to imploding at tournaments, have maintained tight discipline for the most part, and kept their collective digits off Twitter and the like.
Here in New Zealand, for various reasons, it’s impossible to support France no matter what the shape of the ball, and I still feel it would be fitting to have a new name on the trophy this time around. I’m actually, in the end, pretty ambivalent about who wins the Final, so long as it’s a half-decent game. My fear is a 1-0 lead to France at half-time, after an edgy and directionless first half from Croatia, followed by 45 minutes of France looking to kill the game stone dead.
We’ll know soon enough. Just this last weekend to get through, people, and we can lean back in our office chairs and wonder what we are going to write about for the rest of the summer. What about the tennis? Wait, that’s been going on while the football was on? Why didn’t anybody tell me?
In another dimension another (actual) writer isn’t typing these words in his PJs at the breakfast table after England’s exit. No, he’s filing his copy and smiling beatifically at his wife, Gwyneth Paltrow, and remembering the time when he almost missed the bus. He’s really struggling to contain himself, in hopes of an England win against Saudi Arabia in Sunday’s final (it was a very weird World Cup where he is). I pity him for how he’ll struggle for words on Monday morning, but you can’t have everything.