You always start off with the best of intentions, don’t you? The road to hell is freshly paved at the beginning of every major tournament. Really and truly, you’d like to wish them well.
This time, it seemed achievable. Low-key, muted, modest England could almost grow on you.
“It’s the tournament where our lack of hope has become our chief source of hope,” announced Adrian Chiles at the outset and it almost felt right, even if sincerity fits Chiles like a size six mini-skirt.
You didn’t even mind Jamie Carragher screeching that he was “quietly confident”, as nobody – even the dogs of Donetsk he roused in the process – could make a go of disliking Carra.
On RTE, Liam Brady was on board with our quest for personal development.
“I can’t remember a time when they didn’t go into it thinking they were going to win it, which was ridiculous. Now the expectation is at the right level. I think England have got a real good chance today.”
Didi Hamann, who probably has his own issues with them, was happy to play along. “I don’t think England will get beat.” Mind you, he wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to settle a few old engine room scores.
“Lampard; it’s a blessing he’s not there. Before, they had too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Everyone wanted to be the main man.”
To help keep the feelgood vibes bubbling – and since it was well before the watershed – Darragh Maloney apologetically flagged up a video-nasty for any squeamish viewers.
“We’re going to look at John Terry.”
Obviously, I can’t be sure what it contained, since I was safely looking up at the sun instead, but John Giles was impressed, feeling that JT has even more in him than he produced on his big night in Munich.
“When he’s on the pitch, he’s at his best.”
Back on ITV, Chiles was proving a great deal braver than he is when Keano is coiled at his elbow, glowering like he might take a bite out of it. As we saw Franck Ribery chilling in a cryo-chamber, Chiles put his shirt on the safe bet that Roy wasn’t watching.
“We’ve actually got one of these at ITV. We lower Roy Keane into one whenever he’s in danger of overheating.”
In truth, Patrick Vieira was the only one deviating from the script. “Looking at the French team, I don’t understand why England would be afraid to play against us.” That wasn’t the kind of dangerous talk Chiles wanted to hear. “Hang on, that’s getting into optimistic territory.” They are anxiously clutching this underdog tag like it’s a first trophy in…
Sorry, no need for that. I was still on board, prepared to invest in Roy’s two banks of four and marvel at the unceasing, tireless gallantry that enables Scott ‘Scotty’ Parker make ten-yard shuttle runs in front of his back four. Honestly, I was.
Until Clive. Three words triggered a relapse.
“Agincourt, Waterloo… Donetsk.”
There were shades of Motty in his pomp. “I think this could be our best victory over Germany since the war.”
All class. Ruefully, I suspected my personal battle might last another 100 years too. Even after that freshly-paved road has led me to a warm demise.
The war-cry proved infectious. Soon Andy Townsend was veering wildly off-message, even before Joleon Lescott’s opener. “I don’t think they’re that special. Patrick was concerned about them. He should be.”
Clive was straining at the leash. “Is it too early to get over-confident again?” While Andy was finding it increasingly more difficult to stick to ‘they’ instead of ‘we’. “It is, but it’s good news. They can score more here.”
And perhaps it was the badness in me rising to the surface again, but when the equaliser went in, I recalled something Gareth Southgate had said for perhaps the first ever time.
“Nasri, I wouldn’t be too concerned about.” The first, familiar chuckle of that clever old sweeper, Schadenfreude.
Clive, however, had found a theme and was sticking with it. “Keep calm and carry on.”
But from there, in truth, it was a ceasefire, with both camps noticeably registering the value of an opening point.
By the end, it was clear that Gabriel Clarke – ITV’s man pitchside – had long found something better to do.
“Steven Gerrard, you said before the game England would be happy with a draw. Did they get one?”
Beforehand, Carra had given us an insight into a typically succinct debriefing during Sven’s time and that great old lover could have nailed this one too. “Good first half, not so good second half.”
Both sides off the mark, then. But some of us, alas, will have to start all over again on Friday.
First published in the Irish Examiner