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World Cup 2010

Neurotic English Soccer Fan On World Cup Anxiety

Marisol's mother has agreed to let her root for England during the World Cup. Christopher Turpin/NPR hide caption

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Christopher Turpin/NPR

I'm a Red Sox fan. My wife is a former Yankees season ticket holder. Until recently we’ve cohabited in relative harmony. That's until we had our daughter a few weeks ago.

Nancy is adamant Marisol will be a Yankees fan. Her concession to me, she can root for England at soccer. And so this morning, I’m dressing Marisol in her official England World Cup uniform, hoping she's my nation's lucky talisman, and that I’m not the one who will be crying like a baby after today’s game against the U.S.

If Americans want to understand the psychological state of England supporters today, think no further than the Red Sox. Not the all-conquering Red Sox of this decade, who'll be whining if they don't win it all. But the Red Sox who enjoyed 80 years of World Series futility. The Red Sox who induced seasonal despair and melancholia across a wide swathe of New England. The Red Sox of poor old Bill Buckner. When I moved to Massachusetts and heard about the ball between the legs catastrophe, I knew I'd found my sporting home from home.

Here is what millions of England fans are thinking right now: How are we going to screw up this time? That's because, aside from one magical month in 1966, we always have. When it comes to soccer, we're an underachieving, snakebitten nation, with an unenviable talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Here is a sampling of English fears this morning:

  • We'll lose to Germany on penalties in the quarter finals. We always lose on penalties. It's the only thing more certain than death, taxes and the fact the English always over cook vegetables. Three times it's happened in the World Cup, twice in the European Cup. It's a national phobia.
  • Wayne Rooney's recent groin injury isn't fully healed. England's hopes ride on our superstar. No Rooney and the team might as well be on safari. His is the most googled groin since Britney Spears went out in public without underwear.
  • Wayne Rooney will get red carded.  The track record here isn't too good. Rooney got sent off at the last World Cup. He's a tough tackler with a temper, who swears up a blue streak. The Brazilian referee for the U.S.-England game has a reputation for handing out red and yellow cards like party favors at a wedding.
  • Terrible goalkeeping goofs. How times change! Once England had an empire and all of the world's great goalkeepers. Now all you need to know is that one of our keepers is nicknamed Calamity James. And the other two don't exactly inspire confidence.

I could go on, but its time to put my lucky shirt on, cross my fingers, get the rabbit's foot out and work on truly banishing any positive thoughts about our chances. Nothing jinxes a nation of pessimists more than dreaming, even for a second, that this might actually be our year.