The referee blew his whistle. ‘We can do this, England,’ I found myself yelling, despite my Welshness, despite my half-German mother. I was not the only player transformed by regressive instincts. Our captain, Andrew Keatley – a soft-voiced writer of brilliant, searing plays about injustice and humanity, about guilt and inheritance, an outspoken voice for the voiceless – spent the ninety minutes shouting at the Germans, shouting at the referees and linesmen, and generally sending the message that their voices were irrelevant. I had never really given much thought to the fact that Andrew had no hair until I saw him screaming in an England shirt. He was suddenly Plato’s eternal skinhead: the ideal form of the worst in our culture. Even our critically acclaimed poet, Nathan Hamilton, headed the ball with such commitment you could almost smell the poems evaporating. It became clear we all badly wanted to destroy Germany. We wanted to do it for England. I recalled the incident when the writing hand of Marcus du Sautoy, The Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford, had been ruthlessly crushed, bones and all, in collision with a German writer of plays for children. I vowed to avenge his months of lost productivity. The idea that football might provide an opportunity to overcome our dumber instincts seemed ridiculous now: football was a chance to set our idiocy free.
We won three-nil. We beat Germany three-nil. In the World Cup. We tonked them. We mullered them. We shellacked them. All the made-up words. We did not care that the only audience for our victory was a handful of Cypriot weightlifters, dead-lifting dumb-bells at the side of the pitch. We refused to acknowledge that the Germany B team was any worse than Germany A.
‘Germany’s Germany,’ we said.
Back at the hotel, we drank, swam, watched traditional local dancing, and told stories of our heroism, our darting runs and crisply pinged through-balls. We mythologised our best goal, how the ball had seemed to hang a moment in the sky – spinning on its axis like the earth itself – before novelist Matt Greene – never forget his name – had slammed it home, bringing to a righteous end one of the great feuds in world history.
I have since rewatched a video of this game. It is amazing how slowly we move. It looks like we’re on the moon. In order to make the game on the screen accurately reflect my self-image, I played it at three times real speed.
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