When I was a senior in high school, I agonized over where I would go to college.
Since I write for The Bulletin, you can probably guess where I ended up.
The fact that I’m at Gonzaga is actually kind of funny. I was so fed up with all the applications that I almost didn’t send anything to GU. At the time it made sense because I figured there was absolutely no way I’d be a Zag.
In the words of the great poet Alanis Morrissette, “isn’t it ironic?”
When I was ready to completely give up on GU before even setting foot on campus, one thing kept me from removing it from my Common App – and my life: GU has pretty great study abroad programs.
I may not have known where I would spend the next four years, but I knew I wanted to spend at least one of them abroad.
My grandparents lived everywhere from Germany to Italy to exotic Kansas while my grandpa was in the military. Living in Germany was formative for my mom. Years later, my dad was stationed in Germany when he was in the Army. My family’s time abroad made them more understanding and receptive to things that may be different from what we find in the United States. They wanted my brother and I to experience the world and its cultures from a young age.
I’m lucky enough that they let us do it firsthand.
I’ve seen salt mines in Germany, cenotes in the Yucatán, a cheese factory in the Netherlands and a nude sculpture park in Norway that may or may not have scarred me for life.
As I got older, I realized that I didn’t just want to see the world: I wanted to dive into its different cultures headfirst.
Believe it or not, I dragged you through this snippet of my autobiography for a reason. It’s context for every column I hope to write in the next year while I study abroad at the University of Oxford.
The last thing I want is to write luxurious and self-gratifying descriptions of my time in the U.K. for my own benefit. Instead, I hope to share the microcultures of university life at Oxford and the cultures of the United Kingdom.
I decided to call this series “Minding the Gaps.” At every tube station in London, you’ll hear a reminder to “mind the gap” between the train and the platform. I’m adding a new definition to the phrase. In my case, it means to mind the gaps between British and American cultures. We’re connected by similarities but there are differences – gaps – that make us unique. More than our accents distinguish us and more than our common language unites us.
Embracing England, the chaos of the World Cup and the hope that football can come home
I work full time during the week and this was the first time in about a month that I wasn’t working a second job on the weekend. Yet there I was, awake at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning.
These early mornings have become a ritual for the last month and it’s not because I’m up already. Many alarms were required (and ignored).
I peeled myself from my bed because I wanted to watch TV live from Russia.
I wanted to watch the World Cup — especially matches featuring the English national team.
You can casually watch the tournament, but it’s so much better (and worse for your blood pressure and sleep schedule) if you pick a team to follow through it all. When you buy into a team, you share the stakes.
And the stakes couldn’t be higher.
I hate to say it, but Team USA isn’t the most reliable team to dedicate your month to. The U.S. Men’s National Team didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup. In the twentieth century, there were decades between American World Cup appearances.
When you’re an American watching the Men’s World Cup, it’s always a good idea to choose a secondary team.
In 2018, I picked the Three Lions — a nickname for the English national team based on the crest on their shirts — to win it all. I have a reason to commit to the cause of English football (for England’s sake, I’m just going to bite the bullet and call it football). For the next year, England is my second home while I study at the University of Oxford.
Now that I qualify for a visa in England, I feel like I’m not a total and shameless bandwaggoner. I invested in the team because I’m invested in the country they represent.
I tuned into every England match. I woke up early on weekends and I felt like a committed fan, even though I’m thousands of miles away from England — let alone Moscow. If games were in the middle of the work day, I worked extra hours the day before so I could get a break for at least the second half.
When England beat Colombia in the Round of 16, I screamed with the other people who spent their lunch in the lobby of the office building to catch a glimpse of history.
When England won 2-0 against Sweden in the quarterfinals, everyone in my house knew… let’s just say I’m not exactly a quiet spectator.
In the days between the quarterfinal and the semifinal, I got weirdly superstitious. I only listened to music from England. On the day of the game, every single thing I wore was red and white.
When the semifinal match against Croatia went into extra time, everyone in my office went to the conference room to watch. Croatia took the lead with the goal that eventually sent them to the final and I was devastated; the Three Lions came closer to victory than they have in years.
England’s run for the 2018 World Cup was spectacular to watch, and not just because of my upcoming time in England. The Three Lions play in the context of a widely-known legacy that is defined by bursts of joy amidst longstanding frustration. This context is woven into the culture of English football fandom. It’s a historical texture that doesn’t exist in the United States when it comes to the World Cup, at least not to the same degree.
For England, no moment from this tournament existed in a vacuum.
The win against Colombia proved just that.
There’s a reason the stadium erupted when England won in a penalty shootout. England has lost more penalty shootouts at World Cups and European Championships than any other team. They were sent home because of penalties in the 1990, 1998 and 2006 World Cups and in the 1996, 2004 and 2012 European Championships.
Who missed the pivotal goal that sent the 1996 game into sudden death? Gareth Southgate, now coach of the English national team.
So when England came out on top of in a penalty shootout, it meant more than the chance to advance to the quarterfinals. It meant redemption for the team and especially for Southgate.
You might’ve noticed another aspect of the culture created around the English national team. It’s a song you’ll hear in the stands whenever England plays. Technically it’s called “Three Lions,” but it’s better known by its chorus: “football’s coming home.”
You’ve probably seen memes about it.
Released in 1996 by David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds, “Three Lions” originally referenced the fact that England was hosting its first major tournament since the 1966 World Cup (which also happens to be the last time England won the World Cup). The song developed another translation: England will win it all and bring glory back to the country where the sport was born.
Over the years, the English national team’s lackluster performances have made the song more of a joke than a musical declaration that they could go all the way.
That changed during the 2018 World Cup.
As this English team gained traction throughout the tournament and players like Harry Kane, Jordan Pickford and Dele Alli proved that they were different, that they actually could go all the way, the song transformed from ironic anthem to meme to a genuine belief that England would be the World Cup champions.
Even though they didn’t make it to the final, this English national team made a football culture defined by defeatism believe again.
Watching England play in the 2018 World Cup was unforgettable. This year’s team simultaneously embodied a legacy that colors their every play as well as a new chapter in English football. The joy of their victories felt even sweeter because they defied a cynical narrative and the crush of their defeat felt even heavier because their loss fit a history of English almosts that they nearly overcame.
I’m so glad I could call myself a fan.
I might even be a fan for life.