It’s coming home…maybe
In the summer of 1966 football fever gripped England. The country was hosting the World Cup for the first time, it was all going to be televised and they had what seemed to be a decent side. All this set against a background of social upheaval and the swinging 60s. There was even the pre tournament drama of the cup being stolen and the subsequent heroic intervention of Pickles the dog.
England of course went onto to win the trophy for the first and (so far) only time after a pulsating and controversial final against West Germany. “Two world wars and a World Cup too..” How we all laughed. England was back in its rightful place at the top of the footballing world. It was going to be a long time between drinks.
An inkling of what was going to be an interminable wait was the following World Cup in 1970. The side from 66 was largely intact and expected to go well. Despite a pool loss (1-0) to the superb Brazilians a quarter final with West Germany was nothing to be feared and sure enough England were 2-0 up in the 50th minute. Then Alf Ramsay made a rare misstep taking off Bobby Charlton to save him for the semi. West Germany scored, England hit a post, West Germany equalised, extra time, out go England.
The subsequent failures (World Cup and Euros) have been painfully documented. They range from the absurd – non qualification, and losing to Iceland – to the borderline heroic with their nemesis inevitably (West) Germany. Tournaments have been approached with confidence, often misplaced, but also a feeling of the inevitable painful, regret laden disappointment. It’s been a hard road being an England football fan.
The years and tournaments come and go, resignation becomes the primary emotion. So what’s different this time? Well, Gareth Southgate is certainly a significant factor. He was reluctantly promoted to the role of Manager, previously the U21 Manager, when Sam Allardyce disgraced himself after one game in charge in 2016. Well versed in the England set up Southgate has quietly but firmly gone about effecting change. Often small things related to the culture and values of what was often a divided and fractured group but the cumulative effect has been profound.
Southgate introduced a New Zealander to the group. Owen Eastwood a London based lawyer and team performance coach, advised on focusing on what can be achieved by the group in the future rather than being weighed down by past failures. The concept of “Whakapapa” was introduced and it’s been fascinating watching mainstream English sports media getting their collective heads around that. The other factor has been a very good group of footballers, not a “golden generation” but talented nonetheless.
A word on the music. The song, Three Lions (Baddiel and Skinner), was a rueful lament pended way back in 96 highlighting the pain and suffering since 66. As relevant today as then. Often mistakenly construed as arrogant by others, it is nothing of the sort. Rather more unfortunately the Wembley crowd has taken “Sweet Caroline” to heart as it’s celebratory song…
The joy of England actually making their second major final 55 years after their first is real and yes the fans will go over the top. They deserve it. The overriding feeling by a fan of a certain age in this part of the world is simply relief. Can they take one final giant step and win it, yes they can. Of course a mighty impressive Italy will have other ideas. Come what may, against the backdrop of a global pandemic, it is going to be an occasion to savour.
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