The World Cup kicks off today – five glorious weeks of football, interrupted only by vicious family rows when the England games clash with Love Island.
But the build-up to this tournament feels very different to the barely suppressed jingoism from a few years ago when the England team, sports desks of national newspapers and men in their 40s with gout thought they were in with a faint whiff of glory.
First up, there isn’t the forest of England flags fluttering from cars we saw in previous years. After decades of let-downs and betrayals, we’re like a middle-aged divorcee whose partner has run off with their best friend and we’re too afraid of being hurt to wear our heart on our sleeve ever again.
Secondly, England’s scapegoat has been chosen even before the tournament has begun. Past victims have included David Beckham, Phil Neville and Cristiano Ronaldo – who, last time I checked, isn’t even English.
The early frontrunner was Man City’s Raheem Sterling, on the basis that he has the temerity to be both rich AND black, as well as leaving the media darlings Liverpool to further his career at a team which effectively won the title before Christmas.
Personally, I think they’ve backed the wrong horse. This year’s scapegoat will be Man Utd’s accident-prone centre-half Phil Jones, The Simpsons’ Ralph Wiggum in human form. Jones, one half of United’s Chuckle Brothers tribute act with Chris Smalling, has scored goals that Lionel Messi and Neymar can only dream about.
Sadly for Jones, pictured, they’ve been through his own net, sliced past a stunned David De Gea at roughly 100mph after the clumsy oaf has miskicked so violently he’s corkscrewed himself two feet deep in the six-yard box in front of a howling Stretford End.
The only positive to come out of the build-up to the tournament is that expectations are roughly zero.
Even though their group contains Tunisia, Panama and Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School, England’s chances in Russia are on a par with a former Soviet spy who’s found his way onto Vladimir Putin’s naughty list. Anyway, enjoy the football!