My tube train had been half empty right up until Embankment. Then on came the England fans. It took a couple of minutes for the platform to clear itself into our carriage. The carriage became packed, then quickly moved past that into being rammed. The doors closed – first attempt, surprisingly – and the train moved off.
No red or white shirts: no chanting: no bullying of the weak. Not silent, just quiet; the odd, briefly composed comment about the size of the crowd, the good things about the new Wembley, how long it would take to make Victoria.
I’d been apprehensive for a moment. Too many such trips in the company of the Famous Chelsea or the less famous A.F.C. Wimbledon; I’d learned how to cringe in the presence of the greatest fans in the world. These guys weren’t like that. They reminded me of George Orwell’s 1940s Englishmen:
The gentleness of the English civilization is perhaps its most marked characteristic. You notice it the instant you set foot on English soil. It is a land where the bus conductors are good-tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers. In no country inhabited by white men is it easier to shove people off the pavement. (The Lion and the Unicorn)
It was just as well. I wasn’t on a journey that I wanted to make in the slightest. On that train, it was my temper that lay on a hair-trigger. I was the one looking for a fight. So it was just as well.
Just as well, too, that… that was a bit more like it, wasn’t it? Watching the highlights again this grey, god-awful morning confirmed my suspicion of the night before that on another day England would have won that one big.
Perhaps an all-too refurbished barstool in the all-too refurbished Spread Eagle in Camden is not quite the same as being there, but it looked to me that only Robinson for England had a bad game, and who is this Lampard fellow? I’ve not really heard much about him, but his was the best England goal since Joe Cole’s against Sweden, beautifully taken when it would have been easier to get the ball trapped under his feet.
Lampard had had to run the midfield all evening, and it would have helped his nerves to have the more established faces, especially that of Micah Richards, around him. If he can keep his place – and he deserves to after last night – one can only drool at the prospect of both Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the centre of the park.
So I’m being tongue in cheek, but were Frank really just breaking through, you’d be thinking that too.
Impressive performances from Owen – hugely unlucky not to score – Shaun Wright-Phillips (it feels fine to type his name in that context), Richards, Joe Cole and Kieran Dyer (also unfortunate), amongst others, mean that this was a hugely promising defeat.
Injuries and suspensions to key players – Rooney, Crouch, et al – mean that England haven’t turned the corner yet. But after last night, we now know that there is a corner to turn.