My 1st experience following England was Portugal 2004 for the European Championships. Me and 7 friends booked a teletext holiday, accommodation on arrival! We had no clue where we would be located other than it would be in the Algarve. That trip turned out to be the best £149 I’ve ever spent.
This was the start of the love affair. Like with any relationship you have in life there will be ups and downs along the way but just when I think why do I keep doing this they always find a way to pull me back in.
What the Euros did ..
Euro 2021 has completely consumed me. There has been an ongoing joke within my household that Dad will be home on Monday 12th July as I’ve been that taken in by it. That is the effect that this group of players have had on people in this country. The ball started rolling in Russia and that momentum carried us to the show piece final that at the start of the tournament was the dream ending we all wanted.
In the build up to the game I was reflecting on ‘big’ games I had been fortunate enough to attend. I’ve been lucky enough following our club to see us win 3 finals at Wembley, lose a final on penalties and watch one of my best pals score the winning penalty to take us to the promise land. Add to those occasions the promotions and survivals we have had over the years on the last day of the season, along with a European Tour that seemed like a dream when I 1st started going St Andrews in 1988 at the age of 5 years old I started to wonder whether despite all those was this the biggest game I’ll have attended to date?
How the day started
The morning of the game I was a mixture of nerves and excitement. I’ve been to World Cups and European Championships before, but this was a final of a major tournament and the 1st major final for England in 55 years. It just had that ‘big game’ feel about it from the moment I opened my eyes. I’d opted to drive to the game parking at a tube station 4 stops from Wembley. On the drive down all you could see in every car was England flags waving from car windows. As I got off the tube at Wembley Park, the party had already started, and Wembley Way was a sea of supporters. This was 7 hours before the game was due to kick off, it was at that moment I knew I was an event not just a final.
Prior to the game I had researched the last final at Wembley and how many fans had attended the fixture. To then know that I was about to do what only 96,929 people had done previously hit home the significance of this game. 55 years in the making and I was about to witness what we all hoped was the next phase in our nation’s history.
In the stadium
The atmosphere in the stadium before the game was electric, I’m never sure how that comes across on TV or how much coverage they show but the stadium was bouncing before the warmups even began. You always get the stragglers at any game coming in just after kick-off but this was different, everyone wanted to take in every second of it.
The Red Arrows did their fly by, the players came out the tunnel and as the anthems began, the adrenaline I felt was indescribable. This was surely our moment?
I’ve said previously that in big games all you want or dream of as a fan is ‘that moment’, once again we were greeted with that moment after only 2 minutes. When Shaw scored the stadium erupted, all that tension and adrenaline released as soon as the ball hit the net. As much as this was the moment we’d dreamed of it actually had an adverse effect on everything. I know it is cliché, but the goal not only came too early for the team, but it did for the fans as well. It seemed like the celebration exhausted all our energy and it took until midway through the 2nd half for us to get it back.
What about the game
I don’t want to say too much about the game itself, everyone will have their opinions. From blog number 1 along this journey I had stated that Gareth Southgate was a defensive / negative minded manager, the final was no different. I honestly believe that his growth amongst this group will come once he starts to be brave enough for us to win as opposed to being too scared of losing. Once that happens then this team will be more dangerous than they are now.
The team were incredible for the whole tournament. We conceded 2 goals both from set pieces. We were only ever behind for 8 minutes in the whole tournament. Players grew in stature in front of our very eyes and many players proved a lot of people wrong along the way. The nation has fallen in love with the group of players and I don’t see the need to critique them in anyway, sadly for us all they just fell short at the final hurdle.
As the curtain closes on Euro 2021 people will state that Football once again didn’t come home. I’m not sure I buy into that. The trophy didn’t come home which is what the end goal will always be, but football came home this summer.
What did Euro 2020/1 bring
After 18 months of uncertainty, doom and gloom a squad of 26 players united a nation that needed uniting. Through their skill and their passion for the shirt they wear they created an experience and legacy that I am convinced will not be forgotten. My 3-year-old son who has not shown any interest in football before now shouts England every time he sees a flag waving. He wakes up every morning asking Alexa to play World In Motion and for the 1st time ever asked Daddy to play football with him in the garden.
That’s what football in this country can do, football matters. We are a nation who were deprived of one of the things we love the most and something that bonds families and people around the country week in and week out. We’ve pretended we haven’t missed it, we acted like it didn’t matter but these last 4 weeks have shown that it means more than we ever realised.
What does football bring
Football in the UK provides a sense of purpose and meaning to so many lives. This summer I have felt like myself again without even realising I needed to feel like myself again. Football is more than just 11 men kicking a ball on the pitch. It’s about catching up with old friends and making new ones. It’s about uniting and bonding over a common passion and goal. It’s who many of us are, it is what defines us as people but more importantly it is what for man of us is normal life.
Nothing has been more depressing than the term ‘the new normal’. This tournament has shown me that when it comes to football, the effect it has on the nation and the happiness it provides to so many that football doesn’t need a new normal, all football needs is fans.
So, as I sign off on this summer, I sign off having had one of the best summers of my life. 4 weeks of feeling alive again. 4 weeks of seeing my friends, celebrating with strangers, and singing Sweet Caroline.
Roll on Qatar next winter, there is nothing better than football and nothing better than following England.
The Bluenose on International Duty signing off