Last night, while explaining to my friend, who has no interest in football, what occurred in the penalty shootout between England and Columbia on Tuesday, I used the pronoun ‘we’ when referring to England. My friend objected: ‘don’t use “we”, you weren’t playing’. I’m sure much has been written about the usage of ‘we’ by supporters and of arguments for and against it, but two things occurred to me.

The first is how churlish an objection it is, and a slightly mean one at that (and it’s strange because it was made to me by someone, who I attest, is neither of those things). For the objector, of course, knows that the person is not suggesting they played, and so leaves them the option to offer up only something abstract in explanation as to why they used that pronoun. So there’s no recourse for that person and so there is no further discussion. The second is: I don’t usually use the pronoun ‘we’, I usually say England. Not that I find the usage odd or object to it like my friend, but I leave it to fans who I feel have more claim than me to the team.

But I used ‘we’. And I used it without thinking or worrying too much about who has any such claim. It was kind of nice doing so. (Apart from where my friend shut it down that is). And it says something about those penalties, what an achievement, and relief, it felt to finally win them and get through.

But more than all this, I think it demonstrates the peculiar intensity of penalties in general; that, watching from wherever you watch (or can’t watch), the tension, the nerves, are felt, that the experience, due to the heightened nature of it, feels (indeed, I’d argue, is) shared with those who are present, involved directly, and with those, like yourself, who are not.

England play Sweden today at 3pm.


Reading: The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro

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