Saturday 28th April 2018 and I’m sat in the Gallowgate for my first Newcastle game of the season versus West Brom.  The Toon had performed well in the last few weeks and pretty much secured their safety and the pressure was off so I hoped to see a confident display against the team bottom of the league.  We all know what happened next.

Visiting St James Park is always a special occasion, especially for a guy who grew up in the midlands nearly 200 miles away and who now lives over 600 miles away in Germany.

However this was not just a last minute arrangement to take in at least one game in the season safe in the knowledge Rafa had worked his magic to keep us up, this was the culmination of a yearlong plan to travel with some German friends who wanted to take in a Premier league game in one of the best stadiums and cities in England.

That group quickly grew to 28 people and we had a real trip on our hands.

We all know what happened next in that game and to my frustration and disappointment the team let me down 0-1. As the media reported, the team looked like they already had their flip flops on.  Preceded by wins over the likes of Man United and Arsenal and followed by a hammering of Chelsea, we certainly picked the ‘wrong’ match to attend!

The team may have let us down that day but the city gave us all a fantastic weekend.

Why am I telling you this? Well, if you had told me then where and when my next live game would be I wouldn’t have believed you!

Me and some of the lads followed the England team to France for the Euros in 2016 and despite being there to see us beat Wales in the last minute, which was very enjoyable, overall we saw yet another disaster of a tournament for England alongside some brutal attacks on England fans by Russian hooligans.

World Cup 2018 in Russia……hmmmm no ta think I’ll skip that one.

Fast forward to June 2018, my second year living in Germany and my first few months into a new job. My colleague passes me an internal e-mail detailing how we could win one of many different tickets for games at the world cup in Russia.  I ticked all the available boxes and carried on working.

Long story short I won a Hospitality ticket for winner of Group H v 2nd Group G at Spartak Moscow. I still wasn’t convinced about going but I have to admit when it came to the England v Belgium game I was torn between a win and a loss so that England would play in the game my ticket was valid for.  1-0 Belgium and I was on it.

What were the chances that of all our colleagues and all the tickets available, the 4 for this game went to a German, Romanian and Englishman and believe it or not a Colombian……GAME ON.

I’m not ashamed to admit I was sat on the flight thinking about the game with my heart already beating.

We spent Tuesday doing the obvious, Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral and taking in the sights and a few beers. The whole city was swimming in Colombian yellow, thousands of them and just a few pockets of England fans here and there mainly taking up camp around the front of the local bars. The atmosphere across the city is alive with football and fans from all over the world.

It was clear this was going to be like a home game for Colombia, a set of fans who make a lot of noise and really get behind their team. My Romanian and German female traveling companions/colleagues already having been recruited by our Colombian colleague to the Colombian masses therefore I knew I would have to stand up tall and make my presence felt to support our boys in the middle of enemy territory.

We took in some of the atmosphere around the ground before taking advantage of the free food and drink and headed up to take our seats.  It came as no surprise when entering the stadium that I was blinded by the yellow as everywhere I looked Colombians were decked in their bright yellow jerseys flecked with red and blue blowing their horns and singing at the top of their voices.  It was Bogota in Russia and I was right in the middle.

I’ve often been told my voice can be a little loud and carries a long way and I now knew that this was my time to turn it up to 11 and make it heard. There were a few small groups of two or three England fans around but eventually I saw up to my left a patch of white and red and heard the drums….my heart started beating and I started singing EN GER LAAAND EN GER LAAAND EN GER LAAAAAAAAD……

Kick off – Let’s be honest it wasn’t great first half but we were controlled, calm and totally dominated. Colombia clearly have talent, even without James Rodriguez players like Quintero, the huge Mina, Sanchez and of course Falcao and Cuadrado both of which had a point to prove to the English after difficult spells in the Premier. We saw what they could do against Poland.

If they had played like they did in the last 10 minutes of this game from the start they may very well have won but instead they seemed to want to drag England into a scruffy, dirty contest with the crazy head-butt from Barrios to Henderson’s chest and chin (maybe he was an undercover mag who still holds a grudge against Henderson’s mackem past) being just one of their underhand tactics. Proud the lads did their best not to get dragged down.

Second Half – More of the same, controlled, dominant, probing from England but again no really clear chances until it came. More crazy tactics by Colombia and more crazy wrestling with Kane as we’ve already seen in this tournament and Harry smashes down the middle for 1-0. Not until Colombia had continued their harassing of the ref and horrible attempts to cut up the turf around the penalty spot and follow Kane round trying to put him off……no chance.

England have been cheated out of games at tournaments like this before by being naive against teams that get called ‘savvy’, masters of the dark arts and clever.  Bull shit, it’s cheating and disgusting.  Apart from an off the ball incident involving Henderson, I can’t tell you how happy I am that the team stayed calm, didn’t get draw in and used these tactics to their advantage and collected their free kicks. Maybe they went down easy on occasions but the hypocrisy from the players of such teams is incredible. We can cheat and kick and play dirty but my God if you fall over while we’re trying to kick you then that is not fair!

Why is it that everyone accepts this kind of thing from South American teams saying it’s just their culture and their way?  If England did this the world would go crazy as would our own fans I’m sure.

We didn’t kill the game off, we had chances but it didn’t come.  Heart beating, faster and faster, Colombia decide to do something amazing, actually play football. Nothing to lose for them now, they began to push and out of nowhere Muriel hits one from way out and it felt like time stopped.  It seemed to take an age as it flew towards Pickford’s goal.  Thank God he saved it, WOW. Now this maybe controversial as we have all lorded him for an amazing save but I don’t actually think he needed to make it, I think it was going naturally wide but that’s just me.

Corner, 93rd minute PLEASE NO, PLEASE PLEASE NO! not this time, not now! I knew it.  Excited following the attempt by Muriel and the award of the corner, the whole stadium was on its feet.  The Colombians could smell it, so could I.  I stayed sat down in my seat enclosed by yellow, I couldn’t see the pitch and hesitantly peered up at the big screen to my right already with my chin resting on my hands. A millisecond of silence then the place exploded all around me, they went absolutely berserk, as I would have done, and my heart got in on the act and exploded too.  WHHHHHYYYYY, every God damn time.

I have to hand it to the Colombians as they behaved like I was not there.  There was no ‘in my face’ gloating or shouting as I would imagine would have been the case had roles been reversed. I was in my own bubble motionless.

Thoughts of the embarrassment at Euro’16 v Iceland; Euro’96 semi-final, WC’90 semi-final, WC’98 Quarter final, penalties against Portugal, Italy, Argentina, Germany. The whole of the world cup in 2010 and eventual crushing by Germany (yes, we ‘scored’ but my God we were terrible for the other 89 minutes).  Add the limp display throughout WC 2014 and group stage exit – all just swirling round as if to say “What did you expect you idiot, this is your football life, get used to it my friend this is just the way it’s going to be”.

As far as I was concerned, at that moment it was over as I knew extra time and possibly penalties would follow and there’s no way our young team can deal with this mentally. I might as well leave now because I don’t know if I can allow the next 30 minutes or so take another piece of my footballing soul after what has been an unspectacular but a strong showing so far in Russia.

I took out my phone and sent a message with 3 words to my friends WhatsApp group and my girlfriend ‘I HATE FOOTBALL’.  My girlfriend received a few more expletive laden message as I poured out my anguish of what had happened and would probably happen now.

She sympathised as she has grown to understand my England football pain since we met 5 years ago and pointed out that the game wasn’t actually over yet.

My amazing girlfriend is German and yes pretty disastrous this year for Die Mannschaft but as a whole for a German fan extra time and penalties is just another opportunity to kill the hope of the opposition. Should it not work out then they still have 4 World Cups, countless semi-finals, finals and European Championship trophies to sit on.  England don’t. One of our fondest tournaments was actually won by Germany who Knocked us out on penalties in the semi-final.  I repeat – that’s one of our FAVOURITE tournaments!

But she had a point so I rose to my feet took a breath and braced myself for extra time.

No surprise, no more goals despite one or two close calls for both sides that nearly gave me a heart attack. The Colombians had received divine intervention in their eyes and whether extra time or penalties, I did feel it was only a matter of time until they finish us off and marched on to play Sweden in the quarters.

Penalties – Now there’s not much more to say other than what we all already know, England had never before won a penalty shootout at the World Cup. Enough said. At that point I decided to ditch my very nice but Colombian supporting colleagues and join a family I had seen just behind me. A father and his 2 kids, a 6 year old boy and 8 year old who had spent the whole game shouting at the top of their voices “ENGLAND ENGLAND ENGLAND” against the tide of Colombian horns, songs and abusive Spanish cursing aimed at the ref.

Now how is this for seeking out disappointment. The father is American and his wife Ukranian and they all live in New York.  The kids were born in London and had pledged total and unwavering support for England and all things related to English football during their first few years after birth in England.  Bless them for they know no better.

I don’t know why but I somehow felt my presence with them would help the kids deal with the inevitable crushing pain and disappointment they were about to experience at the hands of England’s finest and prepare them for the same feeling they will get many, many more times throughout their lives.  Not only would we lose this game but it would now be on penalties after dominating a game which saw us concede a last minute equaliser from the oppositions first corner of the whole game.

OK ready, here we go. Kane and Rashford smashed in either side of some Colombians scoring and then it happened, of course it did. Jordan Henderson has his saved, to be fair not a terrible penalty compared to some worse ones I’ve seen during this WC. The feeling of ‘here we go again’ like a dagger to the heart (all the time trying to resist thinking it’s going to be a mackem that ruins this for me and the whole country).

The Colombians were already getting ready to celebrate into the night and I was preparing to keep my dignity for the next few hours until I could get home and cry away from prying eyes. But wait out of nowhere the cross bar decided to step in and give Pickford a hand, ‘OFF THE BAR by another Colombian, YES, but still so much to do

Trippier, class.

Here comes Carlos Bacca and I will not laugh, gloat or make jokes at his expense, as an England fan I want to show more class and sportsmanship and that we appreciate his pain given our history with our many penalty failures, not least Southgate’s.

The focus here is another Jordan who I think maybe comes from somewhere up north like the other one but not sure, it’s not important now.

“MISS MISS MISS MISS” was creeping out my mouth and then it happened. SAAAAAVVVVVVEEEDDD by Pickford and WHAT A SAVE, magnificent, unbelievable!!! Not too short now hey Tibo you muppet. Amazing reaction and how strong was his wrist. Incredible

It’s down to Eric, special, lovely, super Eric.  To be fair not a great pen compared to the others but F*** me, it went is so who gives a flying saucer we had actually won.  I couldn’t quite believe it. As far as I was concerned as soon as their 93rd minute goal went in I new we would lose at some point but NO we had won shit!!! I didn’t know what to do so I totally flipped out and knew that, although we were few in Moscow, millions across England and other corners of the world were doing exactly what I was doing wherever they were, screaming their heads off shouting “YES YES YES!” and letting out years and years of frustration like you couldn’t imagine.

Only a penalty shootout in the second round, yep I hear you and agree. But I will never ever forget that moment for the rest of my life. As a football fan of Burton Albion (honest!), Newcastle United and England there has not been a lot of success to celebrate over the years so when moments like this do come I grab them with both hands.

Would I have taken a terrible game with a penalty to give England 1-0 win, absolutely every single time. But tell me how many teams that have done well at the world cup breeze through every game, especially at this world Cup. None.  Every game has its drama, its lessons, it’s moments of glory and pain. Now it’s all said and done if you had offered me what we saw in advance i would have taken it!

For a young team, who are not seen as anywhere near the quality of the players we have had in the past (who collectively achieved sod all), to pretty much control a game, deal with dirty tactics, concede a 93rd minute equalizer, still keep their heads through extra time without crumbling from the disappointment, go behind on penalties with all the weight and history of failure England carry with them and STILL manage to take the victory – then surely that is so much more beneficial to the team and the fans and really is a true, true victory.

I soaked it in and watched as the loyal England fans up in the corner sang their hearts out until I finally returned to the hospitality area, that was until my understandably flat Colombian colleague mentioned that the England team had come back out for interviews and to see their families. I raced out and managed to catch a snap with the man who popped in the winning penalty Sir Eric Dier (yes that is my eyebrow in the picture) and Kieran Trippier taking some selfies, great to see.

This turned out to be more than just a last 16 win, it was a sign that this team is not letting history shape them and they are taking ownership and creating history for themselves.

Have we beaten Brazil 3-0 in the final?  No, we haven’t, but before this tournament started I, along with many, just wanted England to play some decent football, show the World we can play a bit and have good players. Win a few games, maybe even a knockout game and not come return home desperate and embarrassed.  Right now, having reached the Quarter Finals I think we can say we have achieved all those things, unless we get utterly whooped by the Swedes!

Can we beat Sweden and get into a World Cup Semi Final? Yes, we will but who the hell knows.  I will be supporting the team all the way whatever the result which for me is a great feeling that I haven’t had since we went into the quarter final against Brazil in 2002.

Whatever happens against Sweden I had 33 hours in Moscow which I will never forget. I visited Russia and Moscow for the first time (I’ll be back), I saw not just my first ever live World Cup game but was very lucky enough for it to be England.  I saw us score, maybe by a future England legend if he carries on like this, I saw us not only win but via our first world cup penalty shootout win ever.  I experienced it all with some great people from across the world and met many more great people there.

I’m a very lucky guy to have had the privilege to experience this, for that I will always be grateful.

COME ON ENGLAND

Matt Greenman, Germany.