THE football fan who is tired of the World Cup is tired of life.
How can anyone not feel giddy with excitement that it all kicks off on Thursday?
But the World Cup is bigger than Putin and it is bigger than Russia.
Even in a dodgy host nation, the World Cup is the greatest sporting event on the planet.
Nothing else even comes close.
Frankly, I would still be getting out my England flags to attach to the windows of my car if the World Cup was being staged in the third circle of hell — or, even worse, Qatar.
England’s group games against Tunisia, Panama and Belgium are in my diary and I believe — indeed, I know — this youthful, swaggering England side, with its thoughtful young manager, will be progressing to the knockout stage.
There are two kinds of England fans — the defeatists who always expect us to go home early and deluded romantics such as me who always expect us to win it.
I still have my reservations about Russia 2018.
I genuinely fear for the safety of law-abiding English football fans.
It would not surprise me if black England players suffer the kind of racist abuse that we have not seen here for 40 years.
And surely there is something deeply disturbing about seeing England play in Vladimir Putin’s country so soon after the nerve gas attack in Salisbury.
But if I have my reservations about the host nation, I have no reservations about the World Cup itself.
The tournament is bigger than a diplomatic spat between London and Moscow.
The highlight of my childhood was seeing Bobby Moore lift the World Cup on a day of sunshine and showers in the summer of 1966.
And even if you were not born in 1966, that image of our golden-haired captain in his red shirt, hoisted on to the shoulders of his ecstatic, exhausted teammates, must be seared in your consciousness for ever.
The memories of 1966 came flooding back when the surviving members of the team assembled on Wednesday for the funeral of Ray Wilson, dead at 83 after his long fight with dementia.
Football’s greatest generation are slipping into history now, and their achievement has become more remarkable in the 52 years that have passed since that magical day.
I expected England to win the World Cup again in Mexico just four years later — 2-0 up against West Germany in the knockout stage, it was a reasonable expectation.
But the dream slipped away in 1970 — West Germany went on to win 3-2 — and England’s World Cup dream has been slipping away for a lifetime, with every new generation of England team found lacking.
I look at the golden stars on the shirts of other World Cup-winning nations — Germany have four now, while Brazil are up to five — and England’s one lonely gold star seems like a poor return for the nation that gave the world its favourite game. Doesn’t it feel like time for England to claim a second gold star?
The anti-England sneering has already begun.
The BBC gleefully reports that sports data company Gracenote give England a four per cent chance of winning in Russia — less chance than Peru.
Brazil, Spain, Germany and Argentina are the favourites to win, but then they always are.
England do not have the greatest players or the most experienced manager but then that was true in 1966, when Pele was in his pomp and Alf Ramsey in his first World Cup.
And for the diehard England fan, hope springs eternal.
Whatever the experts say, this World Cup’s future is unwritten.
In our last friendly before the real thing starts, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford lit a fire under Gareth Southgate’s young England squad.
It is up to the entire nation to keep that fire burning in Russia.
We are told that only 45 per cent of the young are proud to be English.
They will change their minds when Harry Kane lifts that World Cup on July 15 in Moscow.
Style comes at a price
Harry Styles looks undeniably ravishing in a photoshoot for Gucci. but £2,500 for a blazer?
POSING enigmatically with a live chicken, Harry Styles looks undeniably ravishing in a photoshoot for Gucci.
But you would need to be a former member of One Direction to afford that clobber.
£2,500 for a blazer? How much for just the chicken?
Peter was such a gent
PETER STRINGFELLOW, who has died aged 77 after a battle with cancer, had the biggest heart and the biggest hair of anyone I ever met.
A voracious reader – before he settled down he had a pile of books on one side of his bed and a pile of girls on the other – the legendary club owner was a ceaseless promoter of my books and on every publication day he would send me a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon.
Peter, above, loved literature as much as strippers.
He would turn up at my book launches, flaxen locks flowing, invariably in the company of some young stunner.
He was kind and generous to people who could do nothing for him.
Surrounded by half-naked beauties and inebriated celebrities, I never saw him treat anyone with anything other than humour and respect.
I will remember Peter as the definition of a gentleman.
Put fear in thugs
WHEN 100-year-old widow Zofija Kaczan, above, is killed with a broken neck after a mugger stole her handbag, it is painfully clear the criminal class have no fear of courts, police or punishment.
They are right to be unafraid.
With almost 90 per cent of violent crimes going unpunished, criminals have a good chance of getting away with murder.
It is time to put some fear back in these low-lifes.
Sadly, there is no chance of our leaders even discussing the subject of capital punishment.
They would rather live in a country where a 100-year-old woman can have her neck broken for the contents of her handbag.
Jez fest past best
JEREMY CORBYN’S Live Labour festival was meant to be where our wizened hero would bask in the adoration of the young and impressionable, as he did when he made a speech before hip-hop duo Run The Jewels’ set at Glastonbury last year.
Sadly, Labour are struggling to flog tickets for next weekend’s event at White Hart Lane – and it’s only the recreation ground!
Glastonbury was the peak of: “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!”
Life will never get better for the grizzled old IRA groupie.
Live Labour is likely to be far more: “Oh dear, Jeremy Corbyn.”
EU mess is unholy, reverend
THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, reckons the European Union brought “peace, prosperity, compassion for the poor and weak, purpose for the aspirational and hope for all its people”.
God help us!
Youth unemployment in Greece is more than 42 per cent. In Spain it is 35 per cent.
In Italy it is nearly 32 per cent.
Millions of blameless young lives have been blighted as a direct result of the EU’s greatest failure, the euro.
The euro never made economic sense.
It was introduced for purely political reasons.
And for Europe’s young, it has been a catastrophe.
Welby should explain exactly how his beloved European Union has promoted prosperity to all the decent, bright, hard-working young people who have had their futures stolen by the EU’s deranged dreams of political integration.
Welby will not have to travel far.
Many of them are in the UK because they can’t get work in their own countries.
Weight a mo', Jamie
JAMIE OLIVER’S anti-obesity campaign is “stigmatising weight”, says a group of dieticians.
Oh, I don’t know.
If a chubby-cheeked, double-chinned chap such as Jamie, above, can seriously be considered an icon of healthy eating, there is hope for all of us.
Jamie is hardly wasting away, is he?
Go now, Theresa, if you won't deliver a Brexit deal
THERESA MAY doesn’t have the will or the wit to deliver Brexit.
Criminally, the Blancmange Lady doesn’t even have the courage to deliver “no deal”.
But this country refuses to remain a forelock-tugging colony of bullying Brussels.
Mrs May and democracy- denying Philip Hammond should stop apologising for Brexit.
And just go now.
I know what Isle like, like
LOVE Island’s latest shower of apprentice celebrities said “like” 245 times on Tuesday’s episode – that’s, like, once every 11 seconds, like.
There was a lot of competition, but most statisticians agree the worst offender was Niall Aslam, when he was eloquently fretting that hunky Adam Collard might have robbed him of romance with popular Kendall Rae-Knight.
“I’m just a bit worried, like, obviously I was trying to give it the front that I didn’t care to try and save face but, like, I didn’t, like, say to her, like, before she went, like, anything.”
My money is on Hayley “What does superficial mean?” Hughes.
You have to like it.