England fans are daring to believe in the last stages of the FIFA World Cup – but Mike Rehu is sharpening his bantering skills to get some ribbing revenge with his Anglo-Saxon amigos.
Having been fortunate enough to live overseas for quarter of a century, I have made many British friends. Some of them are even English. The Welsh and Scottish are mildly surprised when punching above their weight in sports, but the English always put out a superior air, which is why it’s so satisfying to see citizens of our ex-colonial masters stricken with sporting post-loss syndrome.
It’s been a great source of banter and fellowship over the years as we tease each other over national sporting calamities. You have to have skin like a rhino though, as its not for the faint-hearted.
The first time I experienced some “Pommie-bashing” first-hand was at the 1974 Commonwealth Games as a wide-eyed 11-year-old. The stadium was 500 metres from my home in Christchurch. 400m hurdler Alan Pascoe had blitzed the field and was bathing in the crowd’s adulation. He took it upon himself to hurdle a few more obstacles as he did his lap of honour and failed not once but twice. We laughed and chortled at his predicament. He ended up with egg on his face, but a gold medal round his neck.
Of course, New Zealand has had plenty of times where it has fallen from its perch, particularly during our dark All Blacks period from 1991 to 2007, where we found many ways to lose Rugby World Cup knockout games.
I was in the South Korean heartland working on a ten pin bowling tour on the night of the dreaded 1999 semi-final when NZ was mugged by a mercurial French team.
After travelling through the outskirts of Seoul by cab for an hour and half to find the game on TV, too much soju and a return journey spent staring blankly into space wondering whether I was acting out a bizarre nightmare, I finally hit the sack at about 5am. That was until some English buddies had somehow rung around Asia to find which hotel and room I was in to give me five minutes of good-natured abuse. I was stunned by their resourcefulness; they barely had the nous to wash their undies when we lived under the same roof!
So, in the last week it has begun again, as England makes its way to the semifinal stage of the biggest sports tournament in the world, the FIFA World Cup. Some of my buddies have started to get very cocky and confident about their chances to take home a trophy that they haven’t held since 1966. The first jab I heard was a pre-quarter final tweet; “any idea which day the victory parade will be held in London I’d imagine hotels will be at a premium?”
Then, post Sweden, there’s this great meme of Gareth Southgate outside an IKEA with a box for his trophy cabinet.
Yes, it’s like watching Icarus flapping his arms towards the sun. Will the wax melt? And will my haughty flash harries come hurtling to ground faster than Neymar after a hand shake, or will they fly all the way to the glittering goblet that is the Jules Rimet trophy?
Needless to say, if they trip up like Alan Pascoe, it will be my pleasure to assist them down to earth, perhaps a little quicker than they’ll appreciate.
But, if they go on to be the victors, we’ll never hear the end of the brilliance of the English players, who will join the pantheon of sporting legends (and some myths).
To be fair, I do have a grudging admiration for this England team. They are a real ‘team’, absent of the stars of yesteryear’s failed campaigns. They are dedicated, hard-working professionals who are greater than the sum of their parts. And Southgate has been a real guiding light; smart, canny and prepared.
You’ll never hear me saying that to my English mates though. In fact, I stuck to a crowing theme with a Confucius-like warning to the last Facebook post: “the rooster who crows before dawn will be dinner by dusk”. Probably an ingredient in a humble pie.