World Cup 2018: How should Scots, Irish & Welsh fans feel about England's success?
|World Cup semi-final: Croatia v England|
|Venue: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow Date: Wednesday, 11 July (19:00 BST)|
|Coverage: Full match commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, text commentary, report and highlights on BBC Sport app and online|
It's only now, almost 20 years later, that I can write about the day on the roller coaster in Queensland, Australia. And it's only now, with all this talk of football coming home, that I have something to compare it to.
There was this adventure park, you see. At the centre of the adventure park was this ride called the Tower of Terror. Once upon a time it was considered the biggest, scariest rollercoaster in the world and on that day on the Gold Coast I couldn't resist it.
Nausea was guaranteed in the aftermath. Physical sickness was more than likely. Prolonged concussion was far from out of the question. But the masochist in me couldn't stay away.
We got launched through a 260ft tunnel at 100mph before travelling up the full length of the 377ft Tower and then plummeting to earth. It was traumatic but thrilling at the same time.
For much of the rest of the day I was bewildered and befuddled, a bit wobbly, a tad spaced-out. I was never actually ill, but I felt like it could happen at any time.
Which brings me back to England in Russia and watching it all as an Irishman living in Scotland.
A version of that dizziness from the Tower of Terror returned the minute Dele Alli nutted home England's second goal against Sweden and confirmed their passage to the World Cup semi-final. Wooziness, queasiness - had I gone to the doctor there and then he would he have diagnosed me as suffering from (World In) Motion Sickness.
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There's been so much said and written about how the Scots and the Irish and the Northern Irish and the Welsh should feel about the English being one game away from the final. We should be supportive of a neighbour and want them to win. We should be true to our footballing rivalry and want them to lose. The other day a guy sympathised with me in the street in Glasgow. "Must be difficult, eh? Being named English in a week like this..."
Actually, it's not difficult at all. When you step back from it there is a lot of fun - Tower of Terror type fun - to be had. There are, of course, legions of offence-takers on the prowl now. They hunt in packs on social media, searching for examples of English arrogance to rail against.
It's easy to picture the grievance police poring over the interviews with Gareth Southgate and his players with a look of frustration and confusion. Humble, dignified, classy. 'Hang on, rewind that. There must be some hubris in this'. Thoughtful, intelligent, generous.
'OK, Southgate seems like a decent fella. Let's get the Harry Kane interview instead...' Modest, respectful, ordinary. 'Get that smart-arse Pickford on...' Self-effacing, unpretentious, likeable. 'Harry Maguire must be up himself...' Unassuming, engaging, charming.
'Comrades, we have a problem...'
The go-to in this situation is the media and the endless cheerleading. And, yes, the cheerleading has been quite something. Some of it has been cringe-makingly sycophantic. Other bits, skin-crawlingly saccharine.
Then, you step back and think about it. How would it be in Scotland if Alex McLeish's team were in the same situation? Would all coverage be lacking in bias? Would broadcasters be criticised for using 'Us, We, Our...' when talking about McLeish's brave boys?
Would Scottish reporting be as giddy? Of course it would. It would be off-the-charts giddy. A World Cup semi-final? Are you kidding! It would be giddier than a seven-year-old who'd just washed down a pound of sugar with a two-litre bottle of Coke.
England never shuts up about 1966. That's true. But why would they? They won the World Cup for goodness sake. Celtic fans never stop talking about winning the European Cup in 1967. Why would they? It was a momentous achievement that they celebrate to this day in the 67th minute of every game.
Scots are allowed to reminisce but we throw our eyes to heaven when the English do the same? How does that work?
'This is football, not war'
In his first incarnation as Scotland manager, McLeish almost took the country to the European Championships of 2008. It came down to the last game against Italy at Hampden. If everything went the way of the Scots they'd have qualified.
Around that time a Scottish newspaper re-did the picture bylines of their football writers to have them each wearing a Scotland jersey. And there are lectures about bias in the English media?
On the day of the game, the entire front page of the Daily Record was given over to an image of James McFadden (the star of the team). McFadden was done up as a Roman Emperor.
Alongside him were a variation of the words of Maximus from the movie Gladiator which were in turn a variation of the original from Marcus Aurelius. "What we do in life echoes through eternity. Let this be the day of the...FADIATOR"
It was actually a terrific tabloid front page, a fun image that captured the mood of the nation. Imagine, though, if there's a similar one now. Imagine if a newspaper goes all Henry V and presents the warrior Kane beside the words, 'Follow your spirit, and upon this charge. Cry, 'God for Harry, England and Saint George'. There'd be Scots, Irish, Northern Irish and Welsh choking over their breakfasts.
"Terry English. How cool would that be!"
Here's the thing. Support England or don't support England. It's fine either way. This is football, not war.
Personally, Terry Butcher is helping me through this. He doesn't know it, but he is. Butcher is one of my favourite Englishmen. My fondness for the big man goes back not to his years as captain of England but to his time as manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Scottish Premier League and some interviews we did.
He once told me that he was jealous of my surname. "How did you get a name like that?" he said. "That's the greatest name ever. Imagine if I had that name. Terry English. How cool would that be!"
A week later, Butcher's team went to Ibrox and got a draw against the odds. At the post-match news conference he looked in my direction, shook his head theatrically, and simply said: "Terry English - what might have been."
I've been thinking of Butcher a lot of late. I've been thinking about what all of this must mean to a guy like him, a man who gave blood and sweat for his country as player and leader only to fall at the penultimate hurdle on the biggest stage. You want a happy ending for him and others.
And that takes me right back to the Tower of Terror and those twin and conflicting emotions of wanting it to stop and not wanting it to stop, of being disturbed by it and exhilarated by it.
I want England to win the World Cup and I don't. And if that sounds like a contradiction then fair enough, but it makes perfect sense in my addled head. Come on England! Sort of!