They sing of alcohol and agony, and of all those oh, so nears.
The anguished English now have another line to add to the lyrics of “Three Lions”: Football’s not coming home.
There was no penalty heartache this time, like in the semifinals at the 1990 World Cup or 1996 European Championship. But a 2-1 loss to Croatia in extra time stopped England from reaching its first World Cup final since 1966.
“It hurts a lot,” England striker Harry Kane said. “It’s going to hurt for a while.”
The fans sang of 30 years of hurt in 1996. Two years later, they refreshed it to 32. But the Lightning Seeds, an English musical act, stopped producing updates after that.
It’s now 52 years and counting.
England came very close on Wednesday. For more than an hour, Gareth Southgate’s young team led Croatia before the weary, aging opposition sprung back into life at the Luzhniki Stadium.
Now, on their way to St. Petersburg for a third-place playoff against Belgium, there are just so many agonizing misses to replay in their heads.
Kane. Jesse Lingard. Raheem Sterling. Chances to build on the lead secured by Kieran Trippier’s free kick in the fifth minute.
While Trippier did Bend it like Beckham for his goal, this generation of England players is far removed from the celebrity-obsessed David Beckham-era that straddled the millennium. They even managed to win a game on penalties, breaking the streak of five tournament shootout losses, in the round of 16.
“Wasn’t to be this time,” British Prime Minister Theresa May wrote on Twitter amid the latest Brexit turmoil within her government, “but it’s been a great journey that’s made the country proud.”
There is a genuine sense of warmth between this squad and its followers. The apathy of just four years ago — when the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium was more than half empty — replaced by a newfound affection for the national team under Southgate. Fans could relate to players like Kane, Trippier and John Stones, who toiled through lower leagues to eventually reach the pinnacle of the game. The coach even became an unlikely fashion icon.
“If we have brought joy back home, which I know we have,” Southgate said, “that has been worthwhile.”
Tens of thousands packed into Hyde Park in central London to watch Wednesday’s match, roaring in delight and flinging beer in the air when Trippier scored. Thousands more made the journey from England to Russia, packing into the Luzhniki after shunning the group stage.
Even after Mario Mandzukic’s 109th-minute goal, a young squad was saluted for exceeding expectations with its deep progress in this year’s tournament.
“They are still maturing and Croatia have some hardened warriors,” Southgate said. “They have broken through a number of barriers over the last few weeks. We have made such strides with our supporters.”