England’s journey is over, but mine is not

Alison Bender   Football  

The England fans to my right were going crazy, I was going crazy, at that moment (albeit in the 5th minute) England were going to a World Cup final. I leaned over to my colleague and mouthed: “It’s a bit early to score though isn’t it?” That game seemed to last an eternity, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the clock so many times. With every passing minute England looked more and more fatigued and Croatia looked more and more energised, this wasn’t supposed to happen, Croatia were supposed to be shattered.

Cut to the final whistle and England players falling to their knees, our journey was over. I stood and stared into the pit of England fans. I can’t tell you what the Croatia players were doing, it was all blurred out, all I could see in sharp focus was our England players and Southgate with all his trusty staff around him applauding our wonderful fans. I stopped for a moment to take it all in, then a quick glance down at my phone and a message from my cameraman, I had to go.

I ran through the crowds winding around celebrating Croatia fans trying to figure out what I wanted to say, it felt all too familiar, I’d done this before. Here at the Luzhniki in the pouring rain ten years ago as I watched John Terry slip and miss a penalty it had been my job to talk to the fans and now I was to do the same thing with the England fans. Sometimes you don’t need to say much, the story tells itself. Tonight, like all those years ago the fans were sanguine, they were proud. They were still in shock that England had reached a semi final and won a penalty shootout along the way.

I composed myself, put a dab of lip-gloss on and then stood in front of my camera to hear the familiar voices of Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and the wonderful Dan Thomas who has been such a huge part of my footballing life, from our days at Real Madrid TV, and now he was here in my ear asking me to put such sadness into words.

A few interviews later I found myself on the Russian Metro with its chandeliers sand intricate architrave heading back to bed for my three hours sleep before I’d have to get in front of a camera and do it all again. I set my alarm for as late as humanly possible.

6am and I was heading off to a café near the Bolshoi for an appearance on BBC5 Live sports Breakfast with Rachel Burden. As I sat in the sun with a coffee and a headache it reminded me of my less innocent years where I’d throw myself on a sun lounger in Ibiza after partying the night away, just to make sure I could get a tan. Rachel is someone I’d listened to many times over the years but I’d never actually met her. She is a wonderful broadcaster, calm, relaxed, in control, and put last night’s events into words perfectly.

The early morning sun was hot and I’d come out without sun cream, or any real plan, so I sat in Red Square feeling slightly dazed before a Victoria Derbyshire appearance from yet another gorgeous backdrop before tackling the job of finding “sad fans going home” for ESPN. Whilst in Red Square I bumped into the BBC ‘s Natalie Pirks, also a mum of two. We just gave each other a huge hug. This job is wonderful and exciting and glamorous but we both knew how each other would be feeling so a hug was all we needed. It’s weird, I hardly know her at all, I couldn’t tell you the name of her husband or kids, or where she lives, but we have both shared this experience and we both know a hug was the appropriate thing.

That day was crazy, I appeared on back-to-back TV and radio stations all day,racing to various sets, dusting my face with powder and off we go again until I finally came back to my hotel, downed a couple of glasses of wine with my news editor and hit the sack. They say be careful what you wish for, I’ve always wanted to be this person, after years of hard work, being in demand is what you want, but boy it takes it out of you.

It’s a far cry from my normal life. As a mum of two pre-school kids I spend most of the time trying to keep on top of my job while doing the mum thing. Baby song classes, teddy bears picnics, scrambling around the floor on my hands and knees. It was nice to get my identity back for a short while. I’d kind of forgotten what it was like to be me. When I was busy it was great because I didn’t have time to miss my old life, but the very next day it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was pining so much, coming down off a great high. England were going home, but I was not.

One last push, the final.