Divided Loyalties: England vs. USA at the World Cup
Watching the World Cup is never easy for an England fan. It's over 40 years since we last won it, but somehow, every four years the sap rises and we start to think that maybe, just maybe, this is our year. This is the year we'll bring the Jules Rimet trophy back to "the home of football" and prove to the rest of the world that we're not totally rubbish at our national sport.
But the fear that we'll be knocked out in the first round is never far from the surface, so the opening match is always a nail-biter. Last night the tension was palpable as we sat down to watch England vs. USA with our kids ... who support the USA.
My husband and I are English, but lived in New York City for a decade, and our kids were born there. We watched the last three World Cups standing cheek-by-jowl with other expats in crowded Irish bars on Third Avenue paying a premium for imported European lager and bacon sandwiches made with imported Irish bacon. We sang along to soccer classics like New Order's 'World in Motion' and 'Three Lions' by The Lightning Seeds and cried into our beer when England lost.
But now we're back living in London, and the whole city's awash with red and white England flags. They've even got one at 10 Downing Street. The taxi stand down the street from us has disappeared under a sea of patriotic bunting. Our local supermarket has aisles and aisles of England-themed stuff: beer, underpants, hair gel, false fingernails, wigs, pacifiers, sunglasses. Even the burger buns have red crosses daubed on the top. But because I let the kids choose what we're having for dinner, I bought imported hot dogs and cornbread mix. All washed down with American beer for us and milk for them.
It's just before kick-off, and the kids are dancing around the living room to this year's best World Cup song: 'Goal! England' by We Are Scientists. That's right: the U.S. indie band We Are Scientists. To emphasize the split loyalties in the room, the kids are waving England flags but have the stars and stripes painted on their cheeks. One is wearing an England t-shirt, the other a U.S. one. Thirty seconds to go before kick-off, and the excitement's reached fever pitch.
Uh-oh. Before they've even kicked off, the commentator warns us that England fans' expectations "are perhaps too high." Here we go again. We're going to lose. The USA fans in the room are beside themselves -- and off we go! Hang on a minute. Why are we suddenly watching a Hyundai ad, instead of the game? The match has barely started when the live ITV HD feed from South Africa has pitched into a commercial break. Screaming erupts from the house next door. My husband starts babbling and cursing at the TV.
And then we're back to soccer. But why does the onscreen scoreboard say 1-0 instead of 0-0? Oh, that's just fantastic: England scored while the viewers back home were yelling profanities at a car advert. For an England fan there's always the worry that each goal scored will be the last, so not seeing one -- especially the first of the tournament -- is pretty disastrous. The fans in the stadium are going crazy, and the noise from the thousands of vuvuzelas being blown make it sound like there's a swarm of killer bees coming down our chimney. Maybe surround sound wasn't such a great idea after all ...
While the whole country starts cheering, our 6-year-old daughter -- the more fervent U.S. supporter and a really sore loser -- bursts into tears and kicks over the Staten Island Ferry her brother's been patiently building out of Legos all afternoon. Her mood is not improved when 15 minutes later Altidore fails to convert a cross from Donovan. My 4-year-old son's loyalty to the USA wavers a bit and he starts mulling over the idea that maybe he'll just support whichever team wins.
After 23 minutes of play, the kids are accusing the referee of blatantly favoring the England team. My husband is desperately wishing he were watching the match in the pub. When Emil Heskey crashes into the U.S. goalkeeper, Tim Howard, our house reverberates to loud booing and cries of "Red card, ref! Red card!"
However, it's at the 40-minute mark that the divisions in our house really become apparent: England goalie Robert Green loses his mind, fumbles the ball and lets it roll past him into the net. The USA have equalized and the kids go wild. Chants of "USA! USA!" ring out for 10 whole minutes. At halftime we see footage of U.K. and U.S. servicemen watching the match together in Afghanistan just as Green has his meltdown, and again the kids celebrate as wildly as the jubilant U.S. guys on the screen.
Things are pretty quiet in our house in the second half. Like most Americans watching soccer, the kids are bored by the lack of goals and high scores, and we're sinking into that mindset familiar to all England fans: Oh well, better luck in four years' time. By the time Holden comes on as a substitute for the USA and we're told that in his mind he's also representing Scotland, land of his mom's birth (but not, oddly, England, where he and his dad were born), we're all feeling a bit tired and emotional.
When, in the post-match analysis, pundit and 1970s soccer legend Kevin Keegan says that, actually England played really really well apart from "The Mistake," the booing starts up again from the USA corner of the living room and we have to turn off the TV. After 90-odd minutes of stress, the game was tied at 1-1. Not a disaster for either team, but not exactly a great start either. But for our divided household it's probably the best result: We're all equally disappointed.