OTB World Cup Diary: England's journey shows the World Cup is about belonging...
It's beginning to wind down now, the World Cup, with 62 out of 64 games played, and I can sense it in Moscow. Tomorrow is the biggest day in world sport, but right now the Russian capital is getting back to normal. Life is starting to move on for the locals. I am now entering a period of reflection and I think there are two words that could best describe the World Cup experience; 'colour' and 'belonging'.
The colour is the permanent image I will retain in my memory from this World Cup. It's a been a rainbow constantly in the atmosphere rather than fleetingly in the sky, weaving it's way around a vast country for a month. The colour is the glue for joy, singing, support, happiness, meaning. I have noticed the colour seep out of Moscow in recent days. The metro is more grey, the environment is more ordinary, Moscow is frankly, less attractive without the vibrancy of the waves of colour which lash against streets, buildings, restaurants and cafes during the World Cup.
Every country needs a focal point, an intangible for people to belong, to feel they are sharing an experience with their family, their friends, their work colleagues. Supporting a national team is purposeful, but also a release. You develop your own identity in your fandom, your own colour, your own opinions, the experiences of following that team, where you are, who you are with. It's why it's so painful that the Republic of Ireland didn't qualify. Fans of the 'Boys in Green' would have had a ball in Russia. That missed opportunity to see new places, meet different cultures and add to one's own memory bank means we must strive harder to reach these tournaments. Gaelic Games and Rugby are complicating factors, but Croatia has a population of 4 million people and they will play in a World Cup Final tomorrow. It can be done. 2002 is a long time ago.
England's run to the semi finals, their best in 28 years, and the astronomical television ratings their journey has generated, reinforces my belief that the World Cup is about needing to belong. Feeling that you belong to an experience related to your identity is one of the most special things one can endure, because it makes your identity unique and worthwhile and it allows you to share with others. Club football has become detached from the community and overwhelmed by money to such an extent that while the quality of football is better than on the international stage, it can leave one cold. England were starved of something to celebrate as a nation, together, against the bitter backdrop of Brexit. That sense of tribe, and I am using that word positively, is why Gaelic Games is so popular. The World Cup has reminded us that nationhood in the guise of a football team can be a unifying force, free from any of the ugly aspects of nationalism. Even the hosts, Russia, have not been immune, as their last 16 win over Spain elicited spontaneous euphoria for the art of the possible when the whole world, hundreds of millions of people, were watching.
So remember to strive for colour and belonging in your life, however simple, because if the last month has taught me one thing, it's that it's a lot better to have those things in your day than not.