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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