It wasn’t meant to be for us with red and white painted faces… But UEFA 2020 or 2021, was a huge success from its year long delayed start from the moment it wonderfully echoed the sounds of Pavarotti and Nessun Dorma (from the Giacomo Puccini opera Turandot of course), played to spine tingling effect by Andrea Bocelli in front of a half empty firework throwing Stadio Olimpico in Rome, before that lush remote controlled car, a Volkswagen I believe, delivered the ball to matchday referee Danny Makkelie… Who then got it all under way.
I was in London on the Saturday preparing for the England game against Croatia, over looking the Tower Bridge, cocktail in hand on a roof top bar, when I heard the devastating news that Christian Eriksen had collapsed. Suddenly my heart sank, like hearing a relative has just died, the drink and view no longer mattered as I took to Twitter to see what was going off…. Thankfully good news followed on what could have been so much worse…
A day later we headed to Wembley in the stunning sunshine where it was a carnival atmosphere.. Being part of these tournaments can be such a fun, joyous occasion, a celebration of football, good moods, good spirits, good weather, good football?
The game wasn’t great, but the result was, England off to a flyer, but i’ll be honest, having watched them edge to a 1-0 win, even I weren’t optimistic enough to suggest they’ll make the final.
A drab 0-0 v Scotland followed, the press laid siege, but I think Scotland had their cup final that day, they were brilliant, England weren’t great, the conditions didn’t help, but remember England still didn’t lose.
An even more drab 1-0 win against Czech Rep saw the side of Southgate stutter through with just two goals scored but yet to concede, bonus was a home tie in the next round, but not so good… next round was against those old foes Germany…
It was a match I considered going too… The price of €185 put me off… Listening in ahead of the game, seeing Wembley Way fill from the TV news stations and hearing the atmosphere grow and grow I was starting to envy those that were there.. Watching instead with friends at a packed Hooters in Nottingham, we had a great day, a fantastic performance and it was one of those occasions which you just wish you were there… I’ll probably regret that for some time…. England were brilliant, the atmosphere looked brilliant. What a brilliant bloody day.
Onwards and upwards though, if we saw off the formality of the Ukraine in the Quarter Finals in Rome, it was back at Wembley for the semi-final and potential final, and i’m still in the ballot for both games… Ukraine was in actual fact relatively routine, arguably one of England’s best ever and most convincing knock out performances, Denmark followed and I ‘sadly’ missed out on tickets.
Against Denmark i felt tactically we could have gone at them more, to get the game won in normal time, but Gareth Southgate knows tournament football, he knows you need to be ready for 2 hours plus, his patience in the end paid off, England were through to a first final in 55 years…. Bloody Hell… It really is coming home!
The scenes that followed whet the appetite further, players in arms, singing with fans, sweet Caroline, ‘I really do have to go the final’… I thought to myself.
A day later, that message from fate… ‘You’re IN’… an email to say you can go to the game… The heart pumping, hands shaking, nerves wrecking, until the ticket was actually transferred to my mobile phone by UEFA on Friday afternoon… I never even believed it would really happen…
Two days to prepare, a hostel in London was booked for Sunday night, we only needed a bed, nothing fancy, two tickets to the arch…. Let’s see history being made!!!
We arrived in London and a beer or two, took the packed tube to the stadium, fans singing every song they knew before it finally stopped to huge cheers at Wembley Parkway, getting off the train you could see a sea of white, red flares smoking, fans chanting, this was not no ordinary game.
The biggest difference in the tournaments first match at Wembley, which was a carnival atmosphere, compared to the final, which was tribal, was clientele… In that first match, women, men, children, Europeans together, mixing, mascots, volunteers, singers, side shows, sunshine… It felt like a celebration of football… But the final… Men, Men, more Men, twenties, thirties, teenys, beer cans everywhere, bottles being thrown up in the air… This wasn’t for the feint hearted… When asked by my friend ‘what was it like’ I simply replied “1976”.
But beyond the pushing and shoving, beyond the beer swigging and drug taking, beyond the looting and breaking and entering, the fighting and yobbish thuggery which England fans ‘always’ seem to ‘eventually’ deliver on… There was a football match taking place… And when we all got to take our (or somebody else’s) seats, the Red Arrows flying over, the anthems sung, it was time to get on with it, and oh how England begun.
Luke Shaw scores and you hear the roar, never have I heard anything like that before… But England played a dangerous game, to see out the match with men behind the ball…
At half time we were European Champions, but Italy were showing their class, eventually they got that breakthrough, and in the end we were left clinging on.
I still feel Southgate could have, should have, gone with a little bit less fear… But then those tactics of his have got us to three successive semi-finals, to nit pick at our greatest Coach since Sir Alf, would be harsh considering just how far he’s taken this team… But for the width of a post, but for a penalty placed in the opposite corner, we wouldn’t even be talking tactics… That’s how near England was to winning…
What followed the penalty loss, was something you really don’t like to see… We’ve had it previously with David Beckham in 1998, a scapegoat horrifically teased and tormented, this time to Messrs. Sancho, Rashford, Saka, racially abused aloud for trying to score a goal… I don’t get it… Yes you’re angry… But nobody is to blame…. In football you win some lose some, it really is ‘just a game’.
I hate that in England we ‘always’ criticise when it doesn’t go our way… I hate that we often get so pumped up when things are good, we start to become too arrogant.. I hate that we use ‘race’ as definition to ‘have a go’ at someone, but I also hate that ‘we’ all get tarnished with the same brush, and we end up having to apologise for those idiots which are thankfully a minority.
In all away from the politics and hooligans, England did well, they are improving, and they had a fantastic tournament with so many positives, with so many pleasing aspects and so many memories created… The final might have not created those ever-lasting positive memories for us, but the tournament did, now it’s back to bread and butter before we do it all again, the World Cup in 2022 is just 488 days away.