THE ceremonial tearing up of my England ticket - drawn out of the hat for the office World Cup sweepstake – has been carried out.
As I write this, England can still qualify for what Fifa persists in calling the ‘round of 16’ or, as ordinary mortals call it, the second round of the World Cup finals.
But the chances of that are as slim FIFA president Sepp Blatter saying “you know what, I’ve had enough of this football lark, I fancy a crack at leading the Welsh Rugby Union” and declining to run for a fifth term.
And by the time you read this of course, England’s fate may have been sealed.
Frankly, the only reason I was interested in England doing well in Brazil was the, admittedly distant prospect of scooping a £64 pot following Roy Hodgson’s team’s triumph in the final on July 13.
This has been a pretty decent World Cup finals so far, but the most entertaining aspect has been listening to media pundits bemoaning England’s lack of skill, guile, defensive steel, and a fundamental inability to keep hold of the ball.
Former England star Chris Waddle, who missed a penalty in the semi final against Germany in 1990, provided the most fascinating example of a pundit on the edge. On BBC Radio Five Live, he tried to provide a level-headed summing up of England’s failings, only to dissolve into an increasingly high-pitched rant about how rubbish the performance against Uruguay had been.
But even he failed to mask an air of resignation at the fact that once again, England had failed on the biggest stage of all.
I remember the ‘glory’ days of 2002 and 2006, when under Seven Goran Eriksson, England lost in successive quarter finals to Brazil and Portugal respectively, the latter in the inevitable penalty shoot-out.
Those were the days of the national media-generated Golden Generation, a group of exciting players who were destined to land a big tournament victory for England, or at least go very close.
Looking back, with subsequent finals exits in the second round against Germany in 2010, and now, barring a series of unlikely results, in 2014’s most deathly of Groups of Death, they were heady times.
Quarter finals! These days, most England fans would give what my grandma used to call “me eye teeth” for a quarter final berth.
At the current rate of ‘progress’, England will not qualify for Russia 2018, and will not need to consider reorganising seasons to cater for a possible winter World Cup finals in Qatar in 2022, because they will not qualify for those either.
Meanwhile, in the House of Weekender, feverish wishing and hoping has been the order of the past few days, as my eldest has embarked on some sort of labyrinthine fantasy football league-style competition. I understand that more than a million souls are engaged in the same particular league as he, but he is only interested in beating a select group of friends.
After every game, he tots up the points he and his mates have accumulated or lost, based on the performances of individual players.
After a slow start, he has surged into a healthy lead on the back of excellent performances by the unsung likes of Ivory Coast’s right back and Arsenal target Serge Aurier.
Whoops of delight and howls of pain have followed excellent or poor displays by members of his own fantasy XI, and by members of his friends’ teams. Such exhalations carry through the house into the kitchen, and so I have unconsciously developed a game of my own, based on guessing which player has enjoyed or suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous football (mis)fortune.
For England meanwhile, a tip. The clue is in the name of the game: Football. Too often, England players seem scared of the ball, in too much of a hurry to get rid of it, and too often to opposition players.
It really is as simple as that, and there is a lesson here too for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Irrespective of how big or small the pool of talent at these countries’ disposal, unless a love of the ball is nurtured by those in charge of the game at all levels, the relative success that might be expected will not materialise.
The Premier League and the Championship might often provide breathless and exciting football that draws in fans, but these competitions are becoming increasingly remote from the reality of how the game is played on a more international level. And until the game takes a collective breath and a long, hard look at itself on these shores, nothing will change on the biggest stage of all.
I’m looking forward in the meantime, to the England v Costa Rica friendly next Tuesday evening.
And if by some miracle results have gone England’s way, you might find me rifling through my rubbish bins for incredibly small pieces of paper.