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Hi guys!

I thought I hated football after last night's trauma. But writing this has been healing! I think! (I'm still not OK!) Since England squeaked through to the quarter-finals, I've been thinking about:
  • How football is like the Pacific Ocean
  • Why it sounds sooo nice when a boot strikes a ball
  • Whether Sarina Wiegman is, in fact, the only genius in football
  • ... and lots of other things!
Thank you for showing up to this cursed edition of 31/7. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Flora xx

A trip to hell

After the sheer thrill of watching Colombia surprise everyone by beating Germany, I asked: how can football make us feel like this? On Monday night I was asking myself the same question, this time with a follow up: why have I chosen this bastard life?

Whenever something spectacular happens in sport, you feel a superiority, a smugness as you reap the benefits of investment, while the heathen taking no interest miss a moment you’ll never forget.

This was especially true when I was on my way to watch the Matildas fight their all-or-nothing Group A match against Canada last week. On the streets of Adelaide, I observed people getting on with life’s little things like picking up dog shit or going to collect groceries, unaware of the potential wonder of the upcoming game. It was hard to believe that so many people were walking in the wrong direction, moving away from the football, getting further from the drama and excitement. I felt confusion and pity.

For a couple of hours on Monday night, I longed for those people’s lives. I would sooner do a three-hour shift picking up someone else’s dog’s shit than experience something like England vs Nigeria again.

Did it have to be so long? Did I have to feel that bad? Could I have remained calm? Did I prefer not to? Was the suffering merely a rough side effect of my investment, or did I, on some level, choose to be so distressed?
Waves on the coast by Sydney
Two weeks ago, I swam on Coogee Beach and experienced the power of the Pacific Ocean for the first time. It was no biggie for my native companion, but I was quickly enamoured with the waves, obsessed by their strength, height, and relentlessness. If you swim in the bracing water of a beach in the UK, you have to work to enjoy yourself by making your own fun. On Coogee it was exhilarating simply standing there, feeling the water rushing past me and navigating its force.

At one point, I was enjoying myself so much that I let my guard drop. Failing to react to an oncoming wave, it dumped me on the shore. It was like being in a washing machine, full of sand, on a five-second cycle, before I scrambled to my feet in time to prevent the next one from slamming me down again.

This is how I felt on Monday night. I had willingly waded into these waters and now I was being punished by vicious waves that wouldn’t stop coming.
Lauren James does a silly
By midway through the first half of extra time, the despair I felt when LJ walked had given way to a baseless fizz of confidence. Then when Georgia Stanway missed the first penalty of the shootout I got cosy with acceptance, only to become certain of England’s qualification the moment Desire Oparanozie struck the same hoarding moments later.

Relinquishing control is what makes sport and big waves fun. Being in a stadium can give you an illusion of control. You’re there, you’re participating, the boundaries of the events are distinct. There’s the pitch, there’s its edge, and you can count the players all the way up to twenty-two, see the confines of the technical box and note when the distant, fretting manager inadvertently steps out of it.

It doesn't make sense that when watching at a distance, on a screen, as I was at Melbourne fan park, it’s much more difficult to get perspective. It’s more involving, somehow. You can’t choose your own narrative, and opt for optimism; you’re forced to watch the ball clatter Mary Earps’ crossbar five times in replays, the irrepressible optimism of the Nigeria fans and their irrepressible tambourines, the stress on Sarina’s face, and it’s all happening in high definition but in some far-away fantasy land comprising materials and energy you can’t touch or understand.

I wonder if that’s why fans get such satisfaction from that beautiful sound of boot on leather, the thwack, the soft boom of a ball being kicked real hard, a reminder of realness, of physics, of a true, concrete world beyond the intense feelings in your head which are, after all, mere sensations of a fiction.

A confession

The idea that, through my very absence, I myself had created the tragedy and the total feeling of helplessness it left me with was not the only reason I hated watching on a big screen a thousand miles away from the game.
Plenty of Green and gold at Melbourne Fan park
Not an England fan in sight, the crushing fear was mine to shoulder alone. Toward the end of normal time, locals started to arrive to watch Australia take on Denmark in the following kick off. With them they brought cheers for Nigeria, fearing a semi-final against the Lionesses.

As they crowded around me, I felt the Lionesses getting squeezed out, and realised how quickly the tournament would move on without us; in a few minutes’ time, people would kick balls that have no bearing on anything that matters.

Not long after Lauren James was sent off, I was at my lowest ebb when an excitable huddle of school girls in green and gold tutus emerged in front of me. It was only my weakness, paralysed by the horror of England’s performance, which stopped me from yeeting them into the river. Instead, I could only glower, resenting the fact that football had turned me into a bitter grinch. I felt sympathy for LJ, then, being moved to ugly acts by this beautiful game.

A concern

Talking to my pal and former Uni of Bristol teammate Kelsey on Monday afternoon, she cursed me for my confident forecast of England’s success, which was surely a jinx. ‘Well,’ I shrugged, ‘I’m sorry, I just trust Sarina to solve anything.’

Last week, the first ten minutes of the game against China were pure magic. It felt like everyone in the press box at the Hindmarsh Stadium was staring aghast. Keira Walsh’s absence was just about the greatest obstacle England could have faced and Wiegman had navigated it with such ease. How lucky we were, to know someone so clever at football.

But as it turns out, she’s not the only one who’s good at it. The Super Falcons smothered England. With Walsh now available, coach Randy Waldrum didn’t know whether England would stick to their revised formation or revert to their original one - yet still armed his players with a game plan that left the Lionesses with no space or time to do anything useful.
Sarina Wiegman was ANXIOUS
Your move, Sarina. Was she outsmarted? An adaptation was not forthcoming. England began the second half as they had the first. What was the team talk, ‘try again, try harder?’

Trying harder didn’t work. Nigeria had Plan A sussed no matter how hard England tried to shove it down their throats. Wiegman made no changes until the 88th minute, by which point Lauren James had shown the world exactly what she thought of how everything was going.

A reason for hope

It would have been unjust had England gone out and the fault for their early exit been blamed on James. The Lionesses could have played all 120 minutes with 11 players and still not found a goal. Her scandalous departure may even have helped, since Nigeria were no better prepared to play against ten than England were with ten. Football is so silly like that. The effect of the unexpected is indiscriminate, no matter who causes it.

After toiling and scheming to accommodate for the crucial injuries England picked up since last summer’s Euro success, Wiegman must have had just about enough of inventing solutions. Her answer to Walsh’s absence rejuvenated England; with little time to imagine her way out of the mess James made, she fell back on the other weapon in her managerial armour — the psychological strength of her players, who stayed composed and organised while everything was crumbling.
Milie Bright and Jess Carter taking care of biznizz
They might not have had the wherewithal to score a goal but in the cold light of day, though I was too addled with anxiety to realise it in the moment, they didn’t look like conceding one, either.

It’s remarkable to me, imagining that each of Wiegman’s players were not burning with distress. My task was simple: sit on a beanbag, watch the game and keep my briefs clean. Yet in the pressure of the moment, I was barely capable of achieving that.

A silly sausage

Though it didn’t cause England’s exit, I won’t forgive James’ flare of temper because it made me feel quite unwell. Twenty four hours on, I’m not sure I’ve flushed all the cortisol out of my system. Thanks babe.

My wellbeing aside, stepping on another human being is rude and stupid and I don’t think her age is an excuse. By the time we reach twenty-one, we’ve all felt frustration and most of us can deal with it without petty acts of aggression. Then again, how many of us have carried the nation’s hopes and dreams? LJ must have felt like the queen after her performance against China. Goals are addictive — after making three and bagging two, it was little wonder that the first defender to come between a junkie and her fix felt the full force of her desperation.

Fortunately, Michelle Alozie could see the incident for what it was and generously called for critics to take the heat off her stampy nemesis.
Michelle Alozie FORGIVES

A second, sillier sausage

The drawn-out withdrawal of my own World Cup hopes were no less excruciating or attributable to hubris. I strolled into that tie so confident of England’s superiority that I was gladly inviting the drama on.
Ella toone making my life
In the lead up to the game I was remembering England v Spain, how one of my favourite memories of the Euros was preceded by terror. The suffering of Spain’s lead made the moment of Ella Toone’s equaliser. Without it, there’d be no relief, no ecstasy. You can’t shoulder-barge your friend in a wild act of celebration with a straightforward 2-0 win.

Imagining a straightforward win is what England were on course to earn, I craved a little drama, a little something to make me twitch on the way to a juicier pay-off. In granting my wish, the universe taught me not to gamble with the things you really want. I staked the Lionesses’ hope of glory for a quick fix of pleasure and this was my return: five seconds of screaming alone, on the floor of a city that doesn’t love England, before I picked up my belongings and walked, nauseously, home.
How did you react to Monday's game? Are your briefs clean? Have your neighbours forgiven you? Will that vase you smashed look the same again after you've glued it back together? I want to know how it felt and whether you have learnt your lesson or, like me, you are hopelessly ready to throw yourself back into the line of fire. Send me a message at [email protected] or just hit reply to share your anguish.
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