I was merely a child when England beat Spain at Wembley in Euro 96. Being a Nottingham Forest supporter, the moment Stuart Pearce thrashed his penalty past Andoni Zubizarreta held special pertinence and is one that I have replayed in my mind pretty much daily since it happened.
The euphoria around England during that summer is something that I have never quite escaped. Actually – its something I’ve had to escape but have certainly never wanted to let go of.
As a wide (and cross) eyed eleven-year-old it was so, so exciting to see the national team playing so well and thrills were multiplied by the mood of the nation. Britain was cool, and football was coming home.
Understandably, I tend to not play the following shoot-out’s involving England back in my mind – nor the following four and for that reason, I was one of the millions with their head in their hands as extra-time drew to a close in Tuesday evening’s quarter-final with Colombia.
The tension was genuinely too much for some, a close friend of mine was one of several who opted to leave the premises as opposed to endure the drama and now as far as I am concerned, he can do that whenever we find ourselves in that situation again – heaven forbid.
What a feeling. And even though admittedly I am far more hyperbolic than most I would go as far as to say that that evening has not just ended twenty-two years of penalty hurt, but that this team and their spirit is doing wonders for banishing too many years of national nihilism.
Six weeks ago, there weren’t too many banging the drum for Gareth Southgate and his squad of players, but the mood began to improve when firstly, all the players became so accessible and more importantly they proved to be so united.
Turning the corner
It has often been stated that three decades ago the media had a relationship with the squads that could not be replicated these days, and why not?
Partly because everybody has a platform to state their opinion now and that low mood, that continued disappointment has led to frustration and self-deprecation where even someone as optimistic as myself would admit that I had somewhat lost my faith.
We have waited so long for this and it feels incredible to be in a situation where anything beyond what we have achieved here would be a bonus. Not just in terms of our placing at the tournament because defeat to Sweden would still leave a bad taste but with the way that this nation has been lifted.
During the group stages, Southgate proclaimed that this group of players, with their diversity and energy, represent modern England and while he will “ultimately be judged on football results” they have the chance to affect something bigger.
They do have that chance, and they are taking it with both hands.
This is my story, and every single one has a story to tell. Whatever happens with England and the other seven nations we have been lifted. Saying that, please don’t take me home.
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