Why I desperately want to hate England's Jordan Pickford but actually I love him
Whether he's stopping shots on the international stage or running out of money in ASDA, the England keeper should be everyone's hero
I do not want to like Jordan Pickford, but goddamnit, I can’t help myself.
I haven’t been endeared by his fantastic World Cup showing, in fact, I hate the fact that he’s been brilliant in Russia. I’m furious at his penalty shootout heroics against Colombia, and I’m fuming at his succession of point-blank near-impossible stops to keep out Sweden, and I’m resentful as hell that he might deservedly win the Golden Glove.
I want him to be awful. As a Welshman who has performatively thrown all his weight behind supporting Anyone But England, the fact that Jordan Pickford hasn’t (yet) committed the kind of mortifying goalkeeping calamity that is seemingly tradition for England in international tournaments is maddening. I even interviewed former England number one Rob Green about what it’s like to make a harrowing World Cup gaff, and couldn’t help but feel a great deal of sympathy at just how excruciatingly painful of an experience it must be, and yet I can’t help myself. I need Pickford to be awful. Almost all of me still wants Jordan Pickford to go to parry an easy cross and instead somehow punch Harry Maguire, Eric Dier and, inexplicably, himself squarely in the balls. I want him to face a one-on-one, and for his shorts to fall down. I want him to have the sort of game that could be set to the Benny Hill theme, and for his balls to be so red raw sore that he can’t sit down on England’s flight home, and then for him to be pelted with rotten veg as he steps off at Gatwick, eventually slipping on a banana skin and punching himself in the balls again. But, infuriatingly, Pickford remaining resolutely ‘unflapped’. And my Welsh blood hates him. And yet, I love him.
See, more than goalkeeping prowess, Jordan Pickford possesses something else, an ineffable quality, an irresistible aura, a ‘vibe’. I love Jordan Pickford’s vibe. As a demographic, professional footballers are almost entirely sans vibe. Take his namesake, Jordan Henderson. After wasting a good 15 minutes really squinting my mind’s eye, trying to identify anything close to resembling a vibe about him, I can only come up with: extremely serious guy who’s there when you run into your ex in supermarket carpark years later, who it quickly transpires is her fiance, who responds to your asking her how everything’s going by slamming the boot of his card really hard, tugging at her arm and sternly instructing “come on, we’ve got to get on, let’s make a move”, and then mumbles goodbye without even looking at you, getting your name wrong as he speeds off with the girl you once loved. That’s not a vibe, and it’s unfair to single his vibe out, because Jordan Henderson’s vibe is representative of 99.9999% of professional footballers’ vibes. Jordan Pickford on the other hand: almost infinite vibe.
Look at that grin. That is the grin of someone who would stand out in a school yearbook as the only kid who wasn’t either terminally shy, scowling at having been made to pose for a photo or else going for some embarrassing attempt at a smoulder. It radiates pure vibe. It’s the grin of a Grange Hill character kept behind because he keeps doing armpit farts in the middle of maths. There’d be a storyline where an exasperated teacher tries to connect with little Pickford in detention. “Look, I know algebra isn’t fun,” they’d say. “But your exams are important, Jordan, they’ll really help you get where you want to go in life…” And Little Pickford would look at his homework, scrunch his face together and start banging a fist into his forehead. “I just can’t do it, miss!” But the teacher wouldn’t give up, they’d keep explaining BODMAS with the patience of Saint Monica, the patron saint of patience, until finally, finally, something resembling a eureka moment would etch itself across Lil Pickford’s face, and he’d go “Miss… I think I know it… is the answer…” And the teacher would be sweating now, willing Little Picky to get it right, anticipating a cathartic relief, the kind that comes with really rewarding teaching breakthroughs, and then Pickford would then turn to the rest of the naughty kids and armpit fart the Mexican Hat Dance. The class clown that rules all class clowns. What a vibe.
Of course, this is mostly conjecture and projection, but there is evidence of this vibe, evidence he’s been documenting himself. A trip through Jordan Pickford’s social media between 2012 to 2013 is like going on safari, except all the animals are exceptional posts.
Though he was already representing England at youth level, Jordan Pickford still had no idea he would become their choice goalkeeper at a World Cup they might actually win. He was an 18-year-old being sent on loan spells at Darlington and Alfreton Town, begging his parents to get Sky in his bedroom because he found late night BBC Four docs and Quizcall “soul destroying”. Six years ago, the man who might be knighted for winning your nation the World Cup, wasn’t even able to watch most Premier League games.
Instead, he was watching his American Pie boxset over and over and over again. Or he was at T In The Park chanting “woop woop, it’s the sound of the police” during Kasabian. Or he was unable to pay for his shopping in ASDA because he managed to drop £20 (“haha”).
Can you imagine an 18-year-old Jordan Pickford - who was, crucially, not a £30 million-rated goalkeeper earning a weekly pay packet in the tens of thousands - having to tell the cashier you’re putting your Lloyd Grossmans back on the shelf because you’ve dropped your cash somewhere? No way. Look at that “haha”. The grin would’ve remained plastered across his face, and he’d have turned to face an invisible camera and pulled a “what am I like?!” shrug, as though he were in a Lee Mack sitcom. He’d have done the same when he ran out of diesel a year later.
If scientists tried to grow Britain’s biggest vibe in a petri dish, it would eventually become Jordan Pickford getting sent pictures of ‘Sticky Vicky’ by his mam from Benidorm, donning Ali G fancy dress a decade after he was a remotely relevant cultural reference, and on the cusp of almost single-handedly winning his country their first world cup in 52 years.
There’s another string to Pickford’s vibe: he’s a raver. In 2014, he revealed that a North East rave and hardcore tape put out by The New Monkey was what he listened to get himself pumped for making saves. Four years later, and Tazo - one of the MCs on that tape - would send him a personalised freestyle as reward for his performance against Colombia, and his dedication to the rave. Jordan Pickford at a rave is an almost unbearably huge vibe. If he wasn’t the model professional he almost certainly is, Pickford’s vibe would be going to warehouses and desperately scouring through the assembled throng, asking every single person if they’ve “got anything”, eventually being sold what he doesn’t realise is a handful of multivitamins and a bit of OXO cube wrapped in foil, smashing them down and still managing to feel pure electricity and light coursing through every inch of his body. The kind of buzz that keeps him dancing until 5am several weeks later. Jordan Pickford is all three of the scrawny legged lads dancing in this video. And he’s the DJ, too.
When you consider that he has the unts-unts-unts of hyper-BPM hardcore classics bouncing around his eardrums whenever he plays, Jordan Pickford’s performances take on a magical, joyous quality. It’s goalkeeping-by-raving, frenetic parrying and euphoric shot-stopping, hurling himself at every goal attempt as though they were thumping basslines and wonky melodies that he’s trying to reach out and touch from the dancefloor of his 18-yard box. It’s an unmatchable vibe.
Jordan Pickford’s vibe is doing unforgivable things to me. It’s altering my DNA. It almost makes me happy when England win. You know in films, when the good guy starts doing a real impressive dance, or a goes into a face-melting slap bass solo, or something, and the villain is incensed, and then notices one of his own henchmen has got sucked in by and started approvingly nodding along? That’s me, watching Jordan Pickford.
After making what would be the pivotal save of England’s shootout win over Colombia, Jordan Pickford pulled out the most endearing celebration of the tournament.
Lunging forward on one knee, he does a double fist-pump, as though he were trying to uppercut a tiny invisible boxer. It’s the perfect crystallization of an office manager’s jubilation at getting a half-strike on a team bonding night out, of Paddy McGuinness celebrating a Take Me Out contestant managing to avoid a blackout, and of a father triumphantly reacting to hearing Spandau Ballet’s ‘Gold’ after marrying off his first-born. I hate it, because it almost, almost makes me so very nearly think “go on Picky, my son!” And yet, I also love it.
Make no mistake, if England manage to the improbable and bring ‘football’ ‘home’, I will be irate. I will be as tediously mean-spirited and spiteful about it as possible without causing an international incident. But if I catch sight of a blissful Picky, grin wider than ever, holding the new Jules Rimet aloft like a glow-stick, eyes closed, lost in the rhythm of a famous night in Moscow, something resembling liquid might appear in the corner of my tear duct, and I will think: go on Picky, my son.