Football: England have won the World Cup!

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IF IT all goes wrong for England in France - and I'm not saying it will - but if, then I just hope I can respond in a mature way.

Let's first make one thing clear. I have never actually come to blows over the result of a sporting contest. Other than the time I was sent off for fighting in the South West Herts Youth League. And the occasion when I became fistically involved with one of my team-mates after a disagreement over tactics. And the time I fought with my brother after watching Dave Bedford overwhelmed in the 1972 Olympic 10,000 metres final.

Having made that one thing clear, I have to admit that my reaction to sporting adversity over the years has involved me in actions which have been, at best, unsporting. At worst, pathetic. My response to England's 1-0 World Cup defeat by Brazil in 1970, for instance, is not something of which I am proud. Tearing every pictures of Pele, Jairzinho and co from my football magazines, I took them to the end of the garden and burned them with malevolent satisfaction. Chilling in hindsight.

Three years later, after seeing England prevented from reaching the 1974 World Cup finals by a persistently selfish Poland side, I stormed out of the front door and concluded a random journey by throwing a half brick into the garden of one of the posh houses in Chalfont Lane. How good did that feel! Not very good, in fact...

1982. The Keegan Miss. Despair. 1986. The Hand of God. Not fair. But these last two enormities were as nothing compared to the unacceptable trauma of losing to Germany on penalties in the 1990 semi-final. Crushed, I sought solace in the local pub, downing three pints and defiantly programming the juke box to play Joy Division three times over. My God, what a really magnificent gesture.

In an attempt to prevent similar outbreaks of embarrassing behaviour during this World Cup, I attempted a little pre-emptive exercise. Why not, I thought, try to appreciate a game purely on its footballing merits? Why not take a leaf out of De Coubertin's book, and concentrate on the taking part rather than the winning?

The group match between South Korea and Mexico appeared to have potential for the purposes of experimentation, as I had no feelings about either team. Things went tolerably well until South Korea took an unexpected lead. The joy of their scorer was so palpable it burst through the television screen and forced both corners of my mouth up. When the said scorer was sent off soon afterwards for what was no more than an over-excited challenge, well, bye bye detached appreciation, hello one-eyed partisanship. Ich bin ein Korean - or similar.

The truth is that watching competitive sport doesn't make any kind of sense unless you take sides. And right now, a week and a half into the greatest sporting show on earth, we are still at the heady stage where fantasy has yet to be proven vain.

So stock up the beers, run up the flags, because England have won the World Cup! Or as good as.

I was recently given sequential proof that the trophy is destined for Glenn Hoddle's men: 1966 winner, England; 1970, Brazil; 1974, West Germany; 1978, Argentina; 1982, Italy (for the purposes of this theory, merely a historical turning point); 1986, Argentina; 1990, Germany; 1994, Brazil. Ergo, in 1998, England complete the mirror image. Topographical certainties.

A couple of years ago, I attended an evening of World Cup reminiscence which began with Martin Peters talking an audience through the 1966 final. It was a rainy mid-week evening in Leamington Spa, and the audience in question was just short of embarrassingly sparse. At the back of the hall, an elderly man murmured the plot to his wife, anticipating all Peters' name checks - "Wilson... Haller... Ball... Hurst... Bakhramov".

The drama of those 120 minutes at Wembley has become legend - an Arthurian tale for the 20th century in which England's warriors come through adversity at the third time of asking to seize the Holy Grail. In future years, will other old men sit at the back of dusty halls reliving the legendary combinations which brought England glory in 1998? Probably not. But not definitely not - because the history of the 1998 World Cup is still a live, malleable thing.

"Two minutes left, Owen's break forced the Germans to concede a corner and Adams, the "Lion of England", rose above everyone to head home the goal which officially ended 32 years of hurt..."

Or perhaps this? "McManaman, who had started the tournament on the bench, applied the coup de grace to the Argentinians after a weaving run worthy of Maradona himself. England 1, Argentina 0. It was all over..."

Dream on. There is still time.