England may have lost this week’s semi-final against Croatia, but Gareth Southgate and his boys have well and truly won the nation’s hearts. Kieran Trippier’s incredible free kick last night; Harry Kane’s leadership and encouragement for his teammates; Southgate’s beautifully worn waistcoats; and, of course, those unicorn pool floats – there have been countless highlights throughout England’s World Cup campaign. But one name is heard above the others, one that some of us had never even heard before June: goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Ten seconds before the final whistle, as Marcus Rashford prepared to take a free kick, the camera cut to Pickford. He was looking up at the screen in the stadium counting down the seconds, along with the rest of the nation. Standing at the end of the pitch, with no one else around, he balled his fists and shouted something that looked like, “Come on, England.” The next time we see him, he’s lying on the grass – England are out of the World Cup.
Pickford’s day job is to protect Everton’s goal, but he has played for every single England youth team since the age of 15. He’s now 24 and, thanks to his youth, was in danger of being grossly underestimated throughout this campaign – a notion made obvious when, just as England and Colombia were squaring up to play penalties, a commentator worried about his ability to perform under immense pressure. As we all know by now, Pickford isn’t one to cave under duress and a couple of incredible saves sent England straight to last night’s semi-final. In the next game, Pickford won man of the match after ensuring Sweden didn’t get a ball over his line.
He had earlier punched his own knee in frustration (he meant to hit the grass), causing a ‘daft’ but potentially serious injury to his thumb
But it’s not just his impressive catching skills that have forged a Pickford-shaped space in our hearts. Forget BDE, the internet is ablaze with discussions of Big Pickford Energy, after his (often literally) soaring and personality-led performance throughout this World Cup. With a face filled with thunder, he seemed to be the most passionate, forthright man in the whole stadium – Pickford wanted his team to win just as much as we did. Probably one of the most typically Pickford events in England’s time at the World Cup was the worry over whether the keeper would be fit enough to play against Sweden – he had earlier punched his own knee in frustration (he meant to hit the grass), causing a “daft” but potentially serious injury to his thumb. When asked whether he’d be on pitch for the game, he said: “It was a bit of anger. But I’m a man not a mouse. I’m fine. I’ll live another day won’t I?”
Not one to mince his words, Pickford could frequently be seen shouting expletives to no one in particular – for example, “fuck off... shut the fuck up” was just one of the many phrases to burst from the keeper in last night’s semi-final – mimicking exactly what was happening up and down the nation’s pubs and living rooms in real time.
We love Pickford because, quite simply, he reminds us of ourselves. Jordan Pickford is every boy you went to school with, he’s your little brother going on and on and on about the football. It’s so refreshing to see a football player with unbridled passion and with a real personality, beyond the required mumblings and congratulations to opponents. He doesn’t bow to the pressures to be a “nice boy” on the pitch – when it comes to his job, the gloves are very much on.