All is well in my parallel world of sport, so I can forget about Trump and the melting ice caps, the starving polar bears and the Brexit May-hem for a little while and celebrate instead the triumph in the World Cup of my second country. On the day after the quatorze juillet, too. Any residual fireworks that evening were probably there to mark the winning of a football match rather than the storming of the Bastille.
My first country remains England. We performed gallantly without ever showing enough creative class to suggest that we could reach the dizzy heights of Les Bleus. Essentially a team of journeymen, they showed plenty of spirit and can return home with their heads held high – for once. Being journeymen, they gelled more readily into a team, which is rather more than can be said for the collections of assorted stars over the last 50 years or so. Half a century of hurt and under-achievement. For the gelling, we have that nice Mr. Southgate to thank. Something of a spirited journeyman himself in his playing days, he had the good sense to recognise that we would go further with youth on our side, and the man-management skills to get them playing for each other and sort-of believing in themselves. He showed that there's nothing wrong with niceness in the context of competition if allied to (emotional) intelligence. I would advocate an MBE at least.
The last time we won it – in black and white – we had another manager who appeared to be nice (on the outside at least) and who succeeded in moulding a fairly unpromising and disparate bunch into a cohesive unit. We had a few stars – although Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and the unlucky Jimmy Greaves, were so down-to-earth and modest that they could never be mistaken for prima donnas – but the others would not have been everyone's first picks. Yet they worked so well as a team. There's a lesson there somewhere, but I think I was too young at the time to appreciate it.
I watched virtually all of the tournament on my grandparents' black-and-white television in their sitting room in Bath, where we would generally go for our summer holidays when we lived in Belfast. A long drive down from Liverpool that seemed twice as long because my father took the A-roads rather than the new motorway and drove at around 40mph in deference to my mother's nerves. With four fractious children in the back of his Cortina estate, that journey seemed like an eternity. Even with the current levels of traffic, you could probably do it today in about four hours. Under half the time.
My dad watched some of the matches with me, but most of the time I watched alone. For the rest of the time, I was probably upstairs in my attic bedroom playing cricket matches on paper. I was quite a good cricketer and quite a good footballer, but always better in my head. With half a chance and a lot more self-confidence, I like to imagine I could have been a creative midfield genius, with an eye like Glenn Hoddle for the kind of telling pass that the current England team tended to eschew.
But back briefly to the heroes of '66, who achieved their apotheosis at Wembley on the very day that we drove back – for once via Holyhead, Dun Laoghaire and the Republic of Ireland – to Belfast. I forwent the pleasures of the Irish scenery sailing leisurely by and simulated sleep on the back seat for a chunk of the journey in an attempt to persuade my parents to let me stay up for Match of the Day to watch the highlights of the final. There were no VCRs in those days. Miss the match and you had to wait for the film version of England's route to Wembley to arrive at a cinema very near you. My parents weren't fooled, but they let me stay up. It was a special occasion.
Just how special we wouldn't realise until a few decades and a few penalty shoot-outs later. We're a little bit nearer to that elusive summit now, but it's still a long way off. We've reached base-camp now. More realistically, I think Her Majesty should commission Antony Gormley to erect a set of 11 sculptures on some high visible ground somewhere in the kingdom – maybe in the 'Northern Powerhouse' in honour of Ramon Wilson, Nobby Stiles and one-eyed Banksy. An eternal reminder of a time when England could prove to the rest of the world that we invented 'the beautiful game'.
In France, they've only had to wait 20 years for a repeat. They're momentarily on top of the world and, had I been a little younger, I might have taken the car out after the match and blown my horn around the neighbourhood. Even here in the heart of the country, we could hear the sound of distant claxons. And see some pretty, multi-coloured rockets descending on the meadows below.
In 1998, I watched the French team beat the Brazilians on home territory. Our telly then was linked only to a video player rather than to an aerial or satellite dish, so I watched in the company of the old woman who lived alone in the ugly house opposite us, which her recently deceased husband had built in the '50s. Being a polite young man in those days, I feigned patriotic support for our new country, whereas – being a football romantic – I was still a little in love with Brazil. Hardly Pele, Rivelino and Jairzinho, but they still played in those lovely blue, green and blue strips. Neymar, the petulant boy wonder who would spoil the party, was still a long way off.
This time, though, I didn't have to feign support. All three of us watched the game side by side on the sofa and we all three jumped up and down with genuine glee every time France scored. You had to feel a little sorry for game but under-populated Croatia in their checked Harlequin-like shirts. Meanwhile, Djokovic the Serb, their bitter enemy perhaps, was re-discovering his mojo on Wimbledon's centre court. I would have liked Anderson to win, because he was the underdog and he has a rescued dog that he loves and he seems what the Spitting Image song denied was possible, 'a nice South African'.
And now it's all over. The tennis and football both. I don't watch much 'sacka', as the Americans call it, but I've been watching footie for a whole month. In this house at least, football's come home. What are we going to do without it? Normal service will be resumed. Back to Bargain Hunt? Never! I shall watch some stockpiled films instead. But this week at least, there's the British Open. Golf from Carnoustie. A 'demanding' golf course, it has been described. I can put my feet up for another four days – and enjoy the spectacle of American sportsmen toiling with Scottish weather conditions.
Sport, glorious sport!/What is there more handsome?