Not a single sighting of a white flag with a red cross fluttering from a black taxi.
Not an England sticker to be seen on a car bumper. Not so much as a flicker of bunting in the streets.
Barely a boozer decked out in patriotic regalia. Sales of team shirts sluggish in the shops.
The national debate dominated not by football but by the Brexit voting and the Trump summit.
England manager Gareth Southgate takes his players for a training session on Thursday
Russia 2018 has just kicked off. Our Gareth’s boys play their first game on Monday. And World Cup fever back home is about as hot as a head cold.
This is not the way it has been for almost half a century.
Since England became world champions for the first and thus far only time in 1966, the weeks, never mind just the days before the other World Cups for which they qualified, were festooned in scarves and banners, aloud with drums and bugles.
Not this time.
No doubt those pubs with the big screens will be busy on England match nights. But will the barbecues be blazing for a month in every back garden across this land which gave football to the world? Will there be dancing in the streets?
It doesn’t feel that way right now.
How can this be? Maybe it’s because all those tournament failures have lowered expectations beneath hope.
If Charles Dickens were alive today he could be writing a follow up to his great novel about the fractured dreams of our working class, entitled: Great Trepidations.
Admittedly my observations in recent days have been limited to London and Manchester – but one of these cities does happen to be the capital of the nation, the other of the national game.
One worried Manchester retailer told me the other day: ‘Not only can’t we shift the costly football kits but we’re struggling to sell the cheap T-shirts.’
An England fan adorns his house in St George’s flags ahead of the 2014 World Cup
No pre-World Cup hysteria here, then. Not yet. Perhaps that is better for England. At tournaments past the teams have carried the weight of this country’s wildest dreams on their shoulders – and cracked under the burden.
Quarter finals here we come, if we’re lucky. Which we were not in Brazil four years ago. Then home in sack-cloth and ashes.
Finally, the public and the media have got the message. Be realistic. So have the bookies, who quote England at 16-1. This is a very young and inexperienced team short on international goals, save for Captain Kane.
Still it feels strange they should embark to such a muted fanfare.
Ironically the last time it was this quiet was on the eve of ’66 and all that. But back then England had no World Cup tradition having only entered for the first time in 1958, when they failed to qualify, then sent packing from Chile ’62 with their tails between their legs.
So luke-warm was the interest four years later that for the match in which England opened the tournament, against Uruguay, spectators could stroll up to Wembley Stadium on the day and pay at the turnstile.
By the end of that glorious summer, when extra time really was all over in the final against West Germany and Bobby Moore wiped his muddied hands on the velvet balustrade of the Royal Box before collecting the Jules Rimet trophy from Her Majesty The Queen’s white-gloved hands, we were madly in love with the World Cup.
Before England’s World Cup triumph on home shores in 1966 there was little fanfare
The drift is not confined to these shores. Adidas the sports goods giant is reporting sales in Western Europe slowing by five per cent in the first quarter of this year, despite World Cup jerseys coming onto the market. Chief executive Kasper Rorsted is predicting ‘flattish revenue numbers for the second quarter’ with sales in Russia already down by 16 per cent. Apparently there is no chance of a World Cup impact driving demand remotely close to the Rio 2014 record of £1.5billion.
As for England the old euphoria is groaning and wheezing for lift-off, with plenty of tickets still available for Monday’s starter against Tunisia in Volgograd.
That may well be due in part to England fans being scared off by dire warnings of a violently hostile reception in these times of strained Anglo-Russian political relations. But clearly the motivation to travel in blind belief of England success has waned, also. The pessimism has spread to the betting. Usually England fans wager most on their own team. As of now, reports Betfair, they are backing Brazil and Germany more heavily.
What does all this tell us?
Maybe my findings suggest that even fewer Englishmen, women and children still reside in the capital than the official immigration statistics claim. Maybe the Northern Powerhouse is still pock-marked with poverty.
Yet seats remain unsold not only for England matches but in most parts of the 2018 edition of Pele’s beautiful game.
Is football – if only World Cup football, although Premier League gates and TV ratings are falling – going home?
Well, the flag is flying below full mast and in need of a vigorous hoisting in Russia.
So please, against the odds, come on England.
Author: Nancy Parker
Nancy Parker is a five time Emmy Award winning journalist and seven time Emmy nominee who has spent almost twenty five years covering news in South Louisiana. She has anchored every prime time newscast at WVUE FOX8 during her twenty year tenure in New Orleans.