World Cup diary – the final chapter

35548168_10155221440642100_2567470224789995520_nOn Sunday 15 July, a fabulous month of football came to an end, with France taking home the most coveted prize in football. As if a spell had broken, the heatwave that gripped the UK finally broke the day after, with rain falling on Manchester and the fires burning in moorland around it for the first time in earnest for weeks.

But my World Cup had already ended the Wednesday before, when England exited the tournament after their semi-final. All month, work had been busier than ever and traffic to the BBC website was hitting records, driven by BBC Sport’s coverage. I attended near daily meetings to discuss sport content and plans. And in each one – slowly at first then rapidly – the belief in England’s chances was building.

What had started out as laughable optimism when the tournament began to be something rational people would say out loud: England could be in the final. Suddenly we were bolstering up our staffing for my team on Sunday 14 July, thinking it could one of the biggest days of traffic we’d known.

But it wasn’t to be. The genuine excitement about England’s chances only lasted four days, from England’s victory over Sweden in Saturday’s quarter-final to semi-final defeat dished out by Croatia on Wednesday night. It was over. No place in the final. No second star on the shirts above the Three Lions this year. No bumper sales of blue waistcoats.

The deflated team at BBC Sport kept working into the night, putting the story to bed. I told them goodnight on my way out, leaving them biscuits as a consolation. In a pub in Deansgate, my colleague Jack put down his pint a couple of minutes before the final whistle, walked away from his friends without saying a word and just kept walking. “I just had to get out of there,” he told me when he re-emerged the next day.

The race was run, but at the same time we were now back to a working life I recognised; brisk but sane. My mind relaxed and felt like it was reclined on a sun lounger after weeks of tension. Goodbye to the 2018 World Cup, and thank you for these:

For making my daughter, 16, into a fan of international football. Though still a Love Island fan, she says she’d pick the football any day.

For the England team who are showing the best of the younger generation and diverse modern Britain.

To Gareth Southgate, who is an example of thoughtful management and proves that you don’t have to look far and wide for the thing you need, sometimes it’s right in your midst all along.

To ITV, 5 Live and BBC One for adding female presenters, pundits and commentators to their coverage. I know women don’t play in the World Cup (yet), but part of the game’s magic is that it is loved by men, women and children all around the world.

To the great team on BBC Sport online, whose love of the game and the England team, and all-round excellence, made being involved in the coverage of the event a real kick, even if it was exhausting.

So, looking forward to Qatar 2022 and a World Cup in the winter months, which means bigger viewing figures than when the sun is shining. I’m already looking forward to candy Kanes and a Dele Christmas! And I’ve got four years to work on those puns.

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World Cup diary: Week 2

Magazine showing England team
Guide to the England team, in the Guardian’s World Cup supplement

Week two of the Russia World Cup and my enthusiasm abruptly waned after England’s stunning victory against Panama. I’d sat in a meeting with BBC Sport website editors on the previous Friday, and heard a vision of England’s perfect day:

“Imagine… the sun is shining, people are getting together, firing up their barbecues, then England wins and the national mood just… explodes.”

Sunday dawned, the sun was indeed shining and there was the smell of dozens of local barbecues was in the air. England beat Panama by a stunning six goals to one. The national mood exploded, in a measured way, on social media. On telly I noticed the pundits still refrained saying things like “it’s coming home” or  referring to 1966. They are all old enough to know better.

It’s a fact that there are tens of thousands of under 25s who haven’t experienced a big England success on the national stage. This World Cup could either be an ecstatic experience for them, or their rude introduction to loving a national side that never goes all the way (except in 1966, of course).

We all had a little taste of it on Thursday, when Gareth Southgate played his B side against Belgium. Both teams had qualified and it was only a matter of playing for first or second in their group. The outcome would decide their paths through the tournament and Southgate seemed to have decided placing second would do very nicely for England. Both team made eight changes but it seemed to hurt England more.

The result was one of the dullest matches I’ve ever half-watched. As Channel 4 put in nicely on Twitter: “Switch over to Grand Designs after the match where you can watch actual paint dry.”

It all hinges on Tuesday’s match against Colombia for England. If England lose, they’re knocked out of the tournament and Southgate will always be remembered for ruining the country’s chances by second-guessing fate. If they win, they have an easier route to the semi-final than if they’d played Japan (they’ll meet either Switzerland or Sweden) and he’ll be hailed as a genius.

Only time will tell, which is one of the enduring charms of football. All the preparation and skill only gets you so far; it always comes down to what happens on the pitch and luck, momentum and chance have a funny way of changing the tune. Can’t wait to see what song we’re all singing after Tuesday’s game.

A woman’s guide to the World Cup

Football_dog
Watching England play Tunisia with my dog

I love the World Cup and every four years am gripped by the drama played out in one exciting location or another. But this year something is different. This year I have noticed, for the first time really, that – leaving aside the fans and the people watching the games on TV – the whole event is totally and utterly male. Which I never minded before, but this time round I’m missing female faces and voices to make me feel included.

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Hidden Art Altrincham 2017 is finally here

Guest post by ANNE EARLEY

ConClub-HiddenAltrinchamFestival

Businesses in Altrincham are really getting behind Hidden Altrincham 2017 which starts on Thursday 14th September. The Con Club on Greenwood Street near Altrincham Market will be one of the restaurants getting involved, hosting an exhibition by internationally renowned artist Paola Bazz.

Continue reading “Hidden Art Altrincham 2017 is finally here”