Date: 23 November 2013. Location: Wembley Stadium. Occasion: England v New Zealand, World Cup Semi-final. Outcome: Broken heart.
The bare fact is that New Zealand scored a converted try with 20 seconds of the semi-final to go, and as a consequence, won the match 20-18. The bare facts though, don’t quite capture how I was feeling at Wembley.
When I was a teenager, I couldn’t understand when people tried to cheer me up by claiming “It’s only a game”, when my team lost in a crucial match. It didn’t feel like “just a game”. I can vividly remember sitting at the dining room table, tears pouring down my face, as the radio commentator described how my team had lost in the cup replay. There was little my mum or brothers could say to console me, and the next day at school was grim.
I’m older and wiser now, and I appreciate that there are worse things in life than your side losing, but as Shaun Johnson stepped England skipper Kevin Sinfield and dived over the try line to draw the Kiwis level, with an easy kick to come, it felt as though the bottom had dropped out of my world.
With previous defeats, frustration and anger have taken hold, as I have sought out someone to blame for my disappointment. It might be the ref, a player, the coach, someone, anyone that I could point to and blame for the result not going my way. But at Wembley it was different. I didn’t feel anger. I was simply numb.
England had given their all. They had played brilliantly and led for much of the match, but at the end it just wasn’t quite enough to get the win. I simply stared at the pitch as Johnson went over.
The four Kiwi fans in the row in front jumped up and down in celebration, but their actions were just a blur. All I could see was the green grass of the Wembley pitch. It had all gone wrong. Yet again, we were not going to get the victory. I’ve never seen England win anything worth winning, and that would continue.
Mrs Davies and the girls didn’t say anything. They knew better than that. My eldest said afterwards that she was in tears as the hooter sounded, but I didn’t notice. I was in my own little world. I’d tried to manage my own expectations in the lead up to the semi-final, but as the match was unfolding, it was going our way. We were getting stronger as the match was coming to a close and the final was almost in touching distance, so to lose in such circumstances was a bitter, bitter blow to take.
After our match, there was the other semi-final. Australia gave Fiji a real beating. I was there, but I can’t honestly remember anything about the game, even though we stayed to the very end. No matter how cold it was getting, or how much I wasn’t enjoying it, we don’t leave before the hooter goes. It’s simply the way it is.
Gradually the numbness subsided and was replaced with various, truly negative feelings, but I fought hard to banish the “what ifs” from my mind. I know that is a sure fire recipe for prolonging the misery.
The train journey back to Wakefield was quiet and long. The station in Wakefield was shut, so we had to go to Leeds and then get a bus back to Wakey. When we finally got home, the fact my doner kebab supper was smothered in a raita sauce, rather than garlic mayo didn’t exactly contribute to lifting my mood either. As is my custom after a big match, I sat down to watch it again on TV. I watched the first half, between scrapping the sickly sauce off my kebab, but couldn’t face the second half. I went to bed.
Throughout Sunday, the second half sat there on my Sky box, constantly calling out to me. I knew I had to watch it, if I was to ever complete the healing process. I did, and even leapt out of my chair as Kallum Watkins went over for his try, forgetting for a moment, that I knew how this one was going to end. The last two minutes was painful, but watchable. I knew what was coming, even if I was hoping that maybe, we’d kick for touch, rather than keeping the ball in play, maybe George wouldn’t tackle high, or maybe Sir Kev wouldn’t opt to close Shaun Johnson down, and the Kiwi attack might fizzle out.
I watched it. I’ve accepted it.
Fortunately I was working at home on Monday, and didn’t really need to talk to many people, so I was left to my own thoughts and was coming to terms with the loss. By Monday night, I’d adjusted enough that I was checking out the cost of flights to Sydney. Word has it that the next big tournament will be a 4Nations in New Zealand and Australia next autumn. Maybe that will be the one, when England get their hands on a major trophy.
It’ll happen one day, it’ll probably be in my lifetime and I intend to be there when it does.