Reflections on England's World Cup Run
Words by Adam Thelwell
Photos by Grace Stufkosky
Supporting England has never been the easiest thing to do in football. From heartbreaking penalty losses to straight up not qualifying for tournaments, supporting the national team of my homeland has always been a struggle and to be fair, it's taken a back seat to club football. Meaningless friendlies have become an unwelcome distraction from the club football season.
That feeling has compounded over the last 12 years. It's been since 2006 that the team has ultimately flattered to deceive and England fans everywhere have become disillusioned with the team.
In 2008 I sat in the George and Dragon pub in Phoenix as England failed to beat Croatia, and in turn, did not qualify for the Euro 2008 tournament. Ironically I'm writing this the day after Croatia have beaten England again, but the contrast in mood between 2008's disaster and yesterdays defeat is massive.
This is the 5th tournament that where I've watched England's matches at the George and Dragon. There's something special about the football community coming together every 2 years for a tournament and this years World Cup was the best yet - on and off the pitch.
A renewed outlook from fans including, albeit a skeptical me, gathered into the pub for yet another rollercoaster of footballing glory. We've been scarred previously and huddled round tables lamenting Englands failings tournament after tournament. This time felt different from the beginning with this new sense of optimism. Anything would be possible.
The magic of getting up at 5am for football matches never gets old. The rest of the city is snoozing and here you are throwing your top on and explaining to your confused Uber driver why you're heading to a pub for a soccer match at 5am. Brilliant.
Gathering in the pub with a group of like minded individuals for the great game, even if Englands performances are poor, the World Cup definitely brings out all the fever one could want from a sporting event.
Generally the vibe can get negative pretty fast in the George and Dragon with fans used to England being rubbish. This time though, you felt the buzz and the hunger again from fans that this young team could do some damage in Russia.
And we weren't let down.
It's alright to have a few pints at 6am when the footy is on and this world cup has once again brought out the best in England fans optimism and also the footy community here in Phoenix. Like a magnet in the desert the George and Dragon draws expat England fans in from across the city and this summers gathering has been truly remarkable.
I've lost my voice twice from cheering the lads on and even though a tough loss to a quality Croatia side burns a bit, it definitely has rekindled some love I remember having for the England team when I was young that I honestly thought would never come back.
It's amazing what a quality young team and coach can do, and what it means to the fans when the team actually looks bothered to put the effort in and deliver.
If you're not a regular at getting out to watch matches with others I'd highly recommend it. There's something to be said for the sheer electric feeling of a penalty shootout win. Last minute winners and that feeling of other peoples beers getting spilt all over you in moments of pure joy.
With the final on Sunday I'll definitely be looking back on the summer of 2018 and England's renaissance with fond memories. International football is back on the radar.