Whatever happens next, England can be proud of their World Cup

Our football writer still feels that England will bring football home, but if it somehow doesn’t happen he feels there’s a lot to be proud of…

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Before you say it, yes, it’s coming home: Twitter has confirmed that several hundred times this week alone.

England are guaranteed to win the World Cup and honour, glory and pride will be restored to the proud nation once again.

But what if the rest of the world haven’t read the script?

What if they – unlike the rest of us – don’t wake to a barrage of videos, pictures and witticisms proclaiming football’s impending return? What happens if Sweden come up with a bit of magic or, after them, Russia or Croatia decide not to roll over in the manner we all expect them to?

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The homecoming party would be postponed, the jollifications put on pause and life, generally, would return to its sh*te cyclical tedium.

Offices would regain their usual grey hue, pubs would empty and be once again adorned only by the regular punters and the internet would lose its current joie de vivre to be re-monopolised by your uncle’s album of BBQ photos.

But not all would be lost. Even if things go pear-shaped this Saturday and England end up crashing out of Russia to the nation’s naive surprise, they can be proud of what’s happened this tournament.

Clearly, the critics will point out that England’s run has been a forgiving, fortunate one compared with other countries at this stage.

Yes, they finished second in their group and lost to the only genuine threat they’ve faced. Penalties decided their fate against their only other noteworthy opponent and losing to Sweden would be poor form indeed.

But when has the country ever seemed so united? At a turbulent time of mass division, England’s run in this tournament has provided a welcome reminder of the unifying power that football can exert.

We may be a way off the sort of golden age whereby the country slows to a hazy, warm lull and neighbours embrace at every red and white flagged corner whilst singing gaily to Rule Britannia, but there is undoubtedly something tangible in the air that’s growing with every Three Lions victory.

Gareth Southgate has instilled belief into the nation and – as we know – nothing brings people together better than football. Communities have celebrated together, as seen by the various fan zones and ram-packed boozers.

Families coalesce to watch matches and people’s weeks and days are given structure, excitement and a focus to centre around.

These are the sort of things England can be proud of when reflecting upon what to take from this World Cup.

It’s not the foot-high golden trophy that really matters, but the sheer joy experienced en masse by an entire country in unison when segmentalisation typically reigns as the status quo. England have found new icons, new gods and new heroes for its children to emulate.

As the magnitude of former English icons dwindle – who, after all, really brims with pride when looking upon Winston Churchill’s podgy noggin these days? – new legends are forged in the battles endured at this already historic World Cup.

Jordan Pickford, for example, has flown from a quiet, unassuming Geordie lad to the latest national deity.

Babies across the country – nice, sweet, rosy-cheeked babies – will be dubbed with his name for months to come and the nation will all regard Gareth Southgate with a patriotic tear in their eye regardless of how far he progresses.

Enjoying national football again and those brief moments shared with complete strangers are what will really be remembered in a year’s time.

Whether England make the semi-final of Russia 2018 is about as immaterial as making a World Cup semi-final can be.

It’s huge, obviously. But feelings of joy and pride are already well underway, much more so than anyone could have predicted.

So, here’s to the next three matches and the sweet, sweet return of England’s beloved sport. But let’s not get bogged down, it’s been a blinder already.

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