So, football fans, have you started writing your World Cup checklist yet? Days off booked? Check. Crosses of St George affixed to the motor? Check. Wallchart pinned up? Check. Cases of Stella laid on? Get down to Sainsbury's quick, they've got an offer on. There's something missing. What is it? Oh yes. The excuse for when we crash out in the second round at the hands (or is it feet?) of the Ascension Islands.
So, it is with much relief that we say: thank you, Wayne Rooney.
The scowling grandma-botherer's shattered hoof will at least spare us the other dodges perennially trotted out at international football tournaments when our national side fails to fulfil our grotesquely engorged expectations. Was it the system or the sex-crazed manager? The grass too long? The most commonly used one is usually laid on thick to a stony-faced Gary Lineker by a malevolently gloating Alan Hansen: 'What do ye expec', Gary? Sum o' these lads have played more'n 250,000 matches this season.'
If only we could harness the power of the boundless, reality-denying optimism and deeply-nursed sense of cheated grievance simultaneously held by the average England fan. Not only would the country's energy worries be solved in a stroke, we could probably put a man on Pluto before the end of the decade.
This sense of being robbed of our birthright as just and rightful winners of the World Cup also fuels a major industry of wounded nostalgia. Pop songs, books, DVDs, and documentaries like 'World Cup Stories: England, Going all the Way' and 'When Lineker Met Maradona'. Are we *still* going on about The Hand of God? It was 20 years ago, for pity's sake. If you're still struggling to come to terms with it, comfort yourself with the idea that there's a Philip K Dick-style parallel universe out there where Peter Shilton knocked the filthy cheating bastard's head off and it's only two decades, not four, since we won the tournament.
Then there's the matter of penalty shoot-outs. Did you know that if you lose a penalty shoot-out, it's not recorded as a lost match? You did? I bet you hadn't heard that ego-massaging nugget before England lost on penalties to West Germany in the 1990 World Cup semi-final. If it wasn't really a loss then why didn't both teams play against Argentina in the final? Get some perspective, for God's sake.
The thing is, this 'thirty years of hurt'/cheating-foreigners-robbed-us/we-didn't-actually-lose psychosis is merely a minor symptom of a deeper malaise: the failure to accept that we, as a country, no longer stride the world stage like the mighty planet-fucking colossus we were in our days of empire.
It's this insecurity that leads people like Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to use phrases like 'punch above our weight' when talking of our role in world affairs. (And behave around Condoleezza Rice like a 14 year-old boy presented with the keys to the Playboy Mansion.) The same soul-destroying desperation for a shard of reflected glory with which to burnish our faded armour (see Iraq) and demeaning willingness to please was also displayed by Defence Secretary John Reid on a recent visit to the US, according to Private Eye. After joking about Jack and Condie, Reid 'hilariously' added that he and Donald Rumsfeld were off out to see 'Brokeback Mountain' together. (As an aside, you can just picture Rumsfeld's face, can't you? How the *hell* did Reid manage to leave that room alive? Every time there's a knock at his door, does he now have a momentary frisson of fear that it's a CIA death squad? 'Donald says "Hi", faggot".')
Look also at our hankering for a new generation of nuclear weapons now that the Trident nuclear weapon system is nearing the end of its life. You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to see that a quest for new cock-shaped rockets is symptomatic of a waning national libido. It's the geopolitical equivalent of the middle-aged man going out and buying a big throbbing red sports car because he worries he can no longer impress the ladies now that his scalp is heading north and his arse is heading south.
The problem is he can't take his new toy for a spin because his Mrs has got the key. If Dan Plesch, associate of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy, and a senior associate of the Foreign Policy Centre, is to be believed, our so-called independent nuclear deterrent can't be used without US say-so. Under the Mutual Defence Agreement, the blueprints and parts are American, the testing conducted on the Nevada test sites, and the UK's nuke factory at Aldermaston is part-managed by US arms company, Lockheed Martin. Unless the Metropolitan Police are going to be issued with uranium-tipped bullets, it remains to be seen how a nuclear deterrent fits in this new century with its bogeyman terrorist threats. It's like a toddler taking an axe to playgroup to defend against pigtail pulling but when push comes to shove, she can't lift it without help from the teacher.
Still on the weapon theme, the UK is the world's second-biggest exporter of arms. We bow only to the US in the peddling-of-death stakes. As pointed out in TFT a couple of weeks back, we make a crisp five billion a year flogging guns to some of the most horrible bastards on the planet. Now *that's* prestige. It should make you much prouder than a one-legged Rooney smashing home a 90th-minute World Cup winner against Germany.
So, when we limp out of Deutschland 2006, paralysed by Paraguay, trounced by Trinidad and Tobago, and swindled by Sweden, we can have our revenge as well as our reassurance. Sure, it was Rooney's foot, we'll say. But why not try and flog our vanquishers some cluster bombs afterwards? You could get Sven-Goran Eriksson to broker the deals with his sexy chit-chat. And if you've had a few Stellas and are feeling particularly belligerent, why not ring the US embassy and ask for the launch codes?