It’s a rare occasion when the US football team advance further than England at the World Cup, so the pain is keenly felt by a British transplant in Virginia.
After five years of living in America, I’d like to think I’ve assimilated into the local culture.
I ask cab drivers to pop the trunk. I visit the dentist every three months. I even high-fived a colleague in the office last week, without irony.
But as this year’s World Cup approached, I had an overwhelming desire to watch our opening game against Italy with other English people.
People who understood the 48 years of hurt – the Hand of God, the Waddle penalty, the Beckham sending-off, the Ronaldinho free kick, the Ronaldo wink, the Lampard ghost goal… the pain, the pain!
I once again arranged a big English gathering at the Timberwood Grill with a group of 50 or so expats.
They put on a great English style food menu including a Full English Breakfast, Bangers and mash and real fish and chips.
Frankly, we didn’t need food. We didn’t even need chairs. All we needed was a supply of beer, a working television and three points.
Sure enough, 50 plus English friends gathered in a room that night to experience, in the company of our fellow countrymen, a familiar pattern of blind optimism, depressing familiarity and even more blind optimism. And we did it again, five days later.
The morning after England lost to Uruguay, I sat my two-year-old down for a man-to-man chat about meeting with triumph and disaster, and how to treat those impostors just the same, even though as an England fan he was unlikely ever to meet with the former.
Then I jumped in the car and whizzed him down to the Timberwood to watch the Italy-Costa Rica game, talking up our chances by stretching Kipling’s poem to credibility-defying extremes (“If Italy beat Costa Rica… If England win our last game 4-0… If…”).
Meanwhile, the rest of the country was engaging with the World Cup like never before.
There is always interest, of course, thanks to the bubble of passionate (mainly Hispanic) soccer fans. Most major cities outdoor venues turn into Hackney Marshes every weekend.
And yet, and yet… There’s something happening outside that bubble, too. Last Sunday, America was heaving with flag-waving USA fans for the Portugal game.
Bars have been advertising the games “with sound”, as if suddenly realising what they’ve been missing all these years. And people at work have started talking to me about football.
How infuriating that football – our football – has finally become a talking point at precisely the moment the USA has progressed further than England on the world’s biggest stage.
All I can do is reluctantly accept my friends’ condolences (“Sorry for your loss”) and quickly change the subject by saying what a great World Cup it’s been, and soccer’s been the winner, and please leave me alone, and take off that ridiculous bandana will you?
Costa Rica’s progression to the very last stages of the World Cup would be wonderfully romantic. The USA’s would be deeply troublesome. They don’t deserve it, not for at least another 48 years. They haven’t suffered enough.
So if the USA team reaches the quarter-final, I’ll start reining in my enthusiasm; the semi-final, I’ll support the other team; the final, I’ll be physically sick. If they win the World Cup, I shall renounce my green card and leave the country.
The USA won’t win the World Cup, of course. But the moment they’re knocked out, you can bet my American friends will instantly, effortlessly, shift their focus to baseball.
That’s the difference between us and them. We’re always dwelling on our last defeat. They’re always looking for their next win (and they usually find it, too).
Meanwhile, I’m still upset about England losing on penalties to Argentina 16 summers ago.
Which reminds me, I must cancel the food I’ve reserved for England’s semi-final against Argentina on 9 July.