I was born and raised watching, playing and loving soccer. Why? My family is from Yorkshire. And thus, I am a fan of England, for better or for worse. In past years, I admit, my pride for the team has come with a grain of salt — generally the English team is made up of older, celebrated but has-been players that haven’t performed on the world stage. And so I don't get my hope up past the group stage.
This year is different. For the first time in the twenty-something years I’ve watched the Cup, I actually believe they could go far, if not win it all.
I bought a jersey. I revelled in the online memes and the English supporters’ slogan “It’s coming home.” To put this into context, my dad was three years old the last and only time England brought the Cup home. I have no idea what it’s like to have the Cup come home, but now I know what serious anticipation and nerves around that feel like.
Most importantly, the Cup brings me together with my family. I speak to my dad and cousin every day about games. We message each other excitedly when England plays. It has become a shared event, no matter where we are watching.
And for the first time in my soccer history, I really, truly, feel English. I am a first-generation Canadian. My family is from northern England — where the accents are hard to understand, that northern England. We have Sunday roasts; we watch the English Premier League, though my dad and uncle are die-hard Sheffield Wednesday fans; we use sayings like “bless ’im,” “I’m knackered” and “fancy a cuppa?” But, honestly, I’ve never felt that attached to this identity.
It hit me in the round of 16 though, like a ton of bricks.
I spent the first half of the England and Colombia game listening on the radio, and sat comfortably in our office’s bistro watching the second half, ready for England to coast to their 1-0 win. And then, the unthinkable. In the 93rd minute, Colombia scored — and my stomach seized.
I was in shock as I walked back to my desk, tuning back in to the radio feed for extra time. Thirty minutes went by with no goals and my phone started blowing up with texts from my cousin and sister. The whistle blew, penalties were set up and my sister called me in need of “support.”
With the game projected on my office’s wall, I stood with the two other England fans in our department and my sister on the phone line, feeling my beef teriyaki bowl turning in my stomach.
England missed their third shot and I put my head between my knees, breathing as if I’d just taken a soccer ball to the stomach. Colombia missed their fourth shot and my heart started racing. My sister was silent on the phone too. Neither of us was breathing.
Kieran Trippier stepped up to take for England and sent the ball past the Colombian keeper. Tied at 3-3, I walked back to my cubicle unable to watch. Carlos Bacca took the fifth penalty for Colombia and I felt my knees go weak — he missed!
Eric Dier stepped up for England. There was a silence in my office and on the end of the phone line with my sister’s office in Toronto. A collective breath held.
He scored — and I almost cried in front of 10 co-workers as I threw my hands in the air.
My boss laughed as she saw me and I said, “Every four years, I am an English fan.” And then I sat back at my desk again, shaking as I texted the family and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
I got an email from my dad: “It’s coming home.” I texted my aunt to organize a bacon butty breakfast for the quarterfinal against Sweden. And I thought about how I was this close to not being able to wear my 1966 England shirt — it’s going on for work this week.
My roots are starting to show.