Language is not a static beast; it constantly evolves, although not in a planned, linear manner. I hope that yesterday the English language made one of its many osmotic advances as, with the score at 1-1 and the ball bounding around inside the England penalty area, Steve Wilson – presumably the only Match Of The Day commentator the BBC could drag to Moscow for an October fixture – declared
England (are) hanging on by their fingertails here.
Quite inspired; announce the winner, inform the OED, bookmark this post and remember the moment for series 42 of Balderdash And Piffle when Dame Victoria Coren explores the etymology of the word. Fingertails; I love it, honest. It’s as if we are somehow going beyond the mere strain and uncertainly of hanging on by our fingertips, like the situation is even more precarious than simply hanging on by our fingernails (which seems positively secure by comparison.) Wonderful. I’m going to try to work the word it into my everyday conversations from now on. Would Steve have possibly put it any better if he had successfully managed to articulate either of the words I assume he was trying to utter? I don’t think so.
Yes indeed, England were hanging on by their fingertails. So it was then in the match, and so it is now with regards remaining in the European Championships beyond the group stage; although just a short while ago the idea that our prospects of progressing were hanging by such a thing would have seemed aspirational when the campaign was going as poorly as I’d predicted and before injuries forced McClaren into fielding a balanced team, so prompting a change in our fortunes. Scotland meanwhile have approached this the other way around by getting off to a cracking start that just refused to peter out, but they have ended up in a similar situation to England after fatefully repeated their classic error of entering a match (in this case against Georgia) as favourites, and with people thinking they stood a good chance. Will they ever learn? We all surely remember where we were when Scotland first proved to us that while they will do well when they don’t stand a chance they will bugger things up with ease once the pressure is off. For myself that epiphany came while I was on holiday at Butlin’s, Pwllheli – watching Archie Gemmill’s goal against the odds that helped put paid to serial World Cup runners-up Holland, but was ultimately in vain as Scotland had forgotten to turn up against Peru the week before – but I know you will be able to name your own time, place and match.
It’s not over yet – England can pray that other results go their way, and Scotland will benefit from being the underdog in their final match against Italy where victory will ensure qualification – but I fear the worst. I have a feeling I could be looking at a European Championships where I will have to adopt another nation to support; that is if I want to have any interest in the competition beyond a sort of detached curiosity. Let’s hope that feeling turns out to be pessimistic. Fingers crossed.