This Side of the Pond – July 12

By Sarah Pridgeon

How was your Independence Day holiday? Mine was more shocking than I expected it to be. Depending on your location last Tuesday evening, you may be able to guess the end of this story – but I sure couldn’t, at the time.

Bear with me, as this will need some context. It happened on a night of agony and levels of stress no human should be forced to endure as England played its first match in the knockout round of the World Cup while I chewed my fingernails from the sofa with my parents-in-law and hubby.

The score was tied when the match came to an end. This is never a good thing, especially not for the England team because, the longer an international match goes on, the worse we seem to do.

Someone has to win to go forward to the quarter finals, you see. If a knockout match is tied, it thus enters a 30-minute period known as “golden goal”. The next goal scored wins the match and the other team is going home in tears.

That would have been harrowing enough, but nobody scored. We were down to the final test, the last gasp, the worst two words in the English language: “penalty shootout”.

One by one, five players from each team take their positions in front of the goal and attempt to get the ball past the goalie. Sounds simple, but imagine the pressure of that endless walk to the line, knowing the hopes of the nation ride on your shoulders and that your odds of meeting those hopes are poor.

This is because you also know that England has quite literally the worst record in the world when it comes to penalty shootouts. We have never won a single one of them.

Naturally, we thought this was the end. I hid my face behind a cushion and considered taking up a less torturous position behind the sofa, my husband appeared to be clenching every muscle in his body and my poor mom-in-law, during only the second World Cup match she’d ever watched, was shouting helplessly at the telly.

But then the impossible happened: we did it. England, for the first time ever, won a penalty shootout. England, a team led by a manager once best remembered for being the player who missed his own penalty 22 years ago but has become a living legend after rebuilding the England team from scratch.

After that tense crescendo, every muscle in my body ached and my hands were actually shaking. I retired to the house to find some way to relax, which I was sure was going to need to include an emergency masseuse and a couple of pints of vodka.

But as I sat down in the living room, the silence seeming deeper compared to the cacophony of the previous two hours, I was interrupted by an almighty great boom. This was not your average Independence Day boom – it shook the entire house.

My first thought, naturally, was that it must be fireworks, but this was a whole lot louder than any firework I’d ever heard. Could a bottle rocket really make a building totter on its foundations?

My second thought was that the wind must still be up from the storm that made its way past. We hadn’t paid a lot of attention because what had been going on indoors was much more thunderous, but perhaps I just hadn’t noticed how hard it was blowing as I walked back to the house.

Logically, that would suggest the noise had been the slamming of a door out in the shop connected to our back wall. Having calmed down one boggle-eyed dog and rescued the cat from the ceiling, I grabbed the nearest flashlight and headed outside.

After successfully not walking into any piles of building material, I confirmed that both entrances to the shop were firmly closed. I achieved this despite having picked up a novelty “X Files” flashlight designed by someone whose priority had not been the shedding of light.

I figured that the wind had blown the offending door closed and began my relaxing attempts anew. Unfortunately, a moment later, the house was rocked a second time, and then a third.

I did my rounds a second time – still no open door. What on earth was going on, did England winning a penalty shootout signify the end times?

After the fifth or sixth boom, I bit the bullet and headed outside to circle the house with my pathetic flashlight, despite now being convinced there was a monster in the back yard. All I achieved was wet toes from trodding through the grass – there was no sign of Godzilla anywhere.

Those booms continued for another hour, but I wasn’t to find out what caused them until the next morning. It wasn’t a slamming door and I had been correct to rule out fireworks, but some might argue I should have guessed what was going on.

Obviously, there was a cannon firing up the hill, because that’s a perfectly ordinary thing to happen on the outskirts of Sundance. A real, honest-to-goodness Civil War-era cannon, repurposed to liven any gathering or party, was entertaining the crowd on a nearby lot.

I’m certain it must have been accidental that, all these years later, on the eve of July 4th, the Americans were once again firing on nearby Brits while their attention was divided by potential disaster back in Europe. Extra points for authenticity, even so.