It was cloudy and damp in London this Monday morning, as it has been most mornings since the autumn, and throughout much of British history. There is a certain air of resignation to this kind of weather. It’s not quite rainy but nowhere close to sunny, as if the weather is too listless to make a commitment either way. You look outside at this drab, gray weather and wonder if it’s thinking the same thing most everyone else here is thinking this morning:
“F**k all. We bloody lost again.”
Yes, England bloody lost again. Last night, in the finals of the European Championship, to Italy. They lost in the most painful way imaginable, on penalty kicks, in a match that was tied 1-1 at the end of regulation and overtime. England could have evened the score on its final penalty kick, but the Italian goalie read that kick so early and easily he could have eaten a bowl of gelato before blocking it.
As it turned out, Italy scored three penalty kicks, England scored two, and that was that.
And so Old Blighty fell short in yet another big international competition in yet another excruciating way. It was England’s first major final in 55 years, when they won their only World Cup. They never have won the Euro Championship.
Fifty-five years. There are millions of middle aged Brits who have never seen their beloved Three Lions win a major competition, while countries all around them all have.
We watched it on the TV at home in Bermondsey. When the match ended, there was an eerie silence outside. Usually you can hear the roars and cheers from our apartment, because we are not too far from a pub that hosts large gatherings during big matches. But not this night. This night, all was quiet and still.
For our expat American family, it was nothing more than a mild disappointment, like not winning a McDonald’s scratch-off prize. We were pulling for England, because how cool would it have been to be living here to experience a historic win? But we didn’t have decades of passion and loyalty invested in it. When the match was over, we simply turned it off and went about our business.
As expats, you tend to exist on the fringes of the excitement. I went to a pub to see England’s semifinal win over Denmark, and had a pretty decent view of the TV from my outdoor seat. I cheered along with everyone else. But even I knew I was an outsider. The second I opened my mouth, and an American accent poured out, I was branded as someone who simply does not understand what it means to England, and never will.
Our family journeyed to Chinatown and Leicester Square on Sunday afternoon, maybe seven hours before the Championship kickoff down at Wembley Stadium. We went there mainly because there is a store in nearby Soho I like to frequent. The area was already packed with drunk fans getting drunker when we arrived around 1 p.m.
It was probably not a smart move, going down there, but we got lucky. We somehow missed the rowdiness that culminated in dozens of loud, obnoxious, and cosmically stupid pricks tossing beer bottles in the air and watching them crash into thousands of tiny shards on the plaza pavement near Leicester Square Station. There were also assorted altercations between fans and the police. It was not an unfamiliar scene in a country that has a long and sometimes tragic history of soccer hooliganism.
I can’t imagine what might have happened if England had won. There would have been mass celebrations deep into the night. There might have been drunken riots and mass arrests.
But England lost, and that sucked the air right out of everyone. I guess most Englanders went home and tried to deal with the pain and disappointment in that special English way.
Some went onto social media and made racist comments about the three black players who missed the penalty kicks. The comments were so foul and troubling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly condemned them, as did Labour MP David Lammy, as did the Football Association, as did Prince William. Authorities are investigating the comments as I write this.
One of those players, Bukayo Saka, is 19 years old. A teenager. A kid, basically, who only a few years ago was playing junior soccer, but now had the eyes of the world on him. And a bunch of adults ragged him endlessly on social media for missing a penalty kick. There are not enough words in the English language to describe how disgusting that is.
As for us…..My family went to bed after the match, while I turned on a St. Louis Cardinals-San Francisco Giants baseball game I had recorded earlier in the week. I caught the last couple of innings.
The Cardinals won, so I was happy. I’m guessing I was the only one in England who cared.