Let me tell you about a heartbreak. Heartbreaks, rather. You like something so much you can’t imagine your life without it. You love, and with love come expectations.
The quid pro quo runs along the lines of: if I keep my side of the bargain, you are to keep yours. I invest so much on you, thinking about you in my shower, idolizing you in my idle hours, dreaming about your success in the middle of an important assignment, and what do I get in return? A bagful of disappointment.
So what if the object of my desire is not a lissome lass but a five-kilogram phallic shaft of pure gold that goes by the name of World Cup. Or the Oval Silverware of European Cup.
Every time England returns from these championships without a trophy, I feel betrayed, my devotion unrequited, my abiding faith in the team shattered.
The first of my multiple heartbreaks would come in 1998 when England went down to Argentina in a round-of-16 penalty shootout. I had an inkling of what lay in store when David Beckham was sent off in the opening minutes of the second half for sticking his leg out to catch Diego Simeone on the calf.
In the 2002 quarterfinal, it hurt no less when Ronaldinho’s majestic chip over David Seaman sealed a 2-1 victory for Brazil.
Come 2006, Captain Beckham leaves the field injured in the second half of the quarterfinal against Portugal. It’s deja vu 1998. I’m chomping at the bit, expecting doom. It didn’t take long for the worst of my fears to come true as soon after Beckham’s exit, Wayne Rooney is shown a straight red for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho.
Once again, England enters the dreaded shootout. Christiano Ronaldo steps up to take the final penalty for Portugal. He side-foots it. The ball goes sailing into the top right corner. Ouch!
In 2010, yes, England’s ouster in the quarters against Germany hurt too, but it was made more bearable without the theatrics of extra time and a nerve-wracking shootout. But I swear to God I still feel like killing the linesman who missed a clear goal from Frank Lampard, which could’ve changed the whole course of the match.
As it turned out, the efficient German unit ran rings around England after the disallowed goal.
Fast forward 2012. New Orleans Cafe, Thamel. June 12. 9:45 pm. The restaurant crew is scrambling to fix a glitch in the overhead projector. A murmur of disappointment settles on the scattered audience as crucial minutes of the Group D opener between England and France tick away. Surely a bad omen for the men in white? Thankfully, a TV is on standby.
It’s even-steven until Joleon Lescott heads the Three Lions ahead, gladly accepting a perfect Steven Gerrard’s curler from the right on the 31st minute. I jump out of my chair in ecstasy. All those around me look disgusted.
I don’t get it until minutes later Alou Diarra misses a sitter for France, to copious oohs and aahs. Then, on the 39th minute, Samir Nasri lets loose a perfect cross from outside the box to slot home the equalizer, the ball missing a fully-stretched Joe Hart’s right hand by inches. 1-1. The small crowd erupts.
I slide farther down my cushioned chair, not a good place to escape the scorn of French supporters. New Orleans! I should’ve guessed. Damn, I need another beer.
The waiter is a tall, gaunt man in his thirties. To take my mind off the sad developments, I inquire if the restaurant had had a heavier traffic since the start of the Euro.
“So-so,” Pradeep says in a whisper, his thin moustache twitching. “Since we can only show the first match, attendance is slightly high, but certainly no mad rush.”
During halftime, I’m hoping England would somehow be able to bounce back from Nasri’s strike. Pradeep, as he pours my beer in an ice-chilled tumbler, hopes there will be many more guests (and bigger tips) as the tournament wears on.
As it happened, there would be no more goals in the game, although each side came close to scoring on multiple occasions. By the middle of the second half, both the coaches seem to have settled for a respectable draw between the two top-billed teams in Group D.
Tonight, my angst-filled ride starts all over again as England plays Sweden. Tough nuts to crack, the Swedes. And they will need no more inspiration after their 2-1 loss to Ukraine in their opening match.
Every time England loses, I vow never to put my heart (and a fair dose of my hard-earned money) on the line again. Chances are, I am in for yet another wallop of tragedy. The last time England won anything big was the 1966 World Cup in their backyard. Since then, zilch, nothing, not even the European Cup.
Perhaps you noticed how I left out England’s dismal performances in the past European Cups. Frankly, I don’t remember any of its matches from these tournaments. In fact, I had to do a fair bit of googling to confirm some of my toughest movements as an England fan that I list above.
“The saddest thing about love,” says William Faulkner “is that not only the love cannot last forever, but even the heartbreak is soon forgotten.” Well, he seems to have the second bit right. As I follow England’s tribulations in this edition of the Euro, I can barely recall the hurt of its harrowing 2010 World Cup exit. But the love of the Perfidious Albion, which has given me only heartaches in the last 14 years, endures.