Only England can do this. Look around you. Turn on the radio. Switch on the TV. Have a scroll through Twitter. Take a look at the back pages. Then turn to the front page. Have a read of everything in between. It’s wall-to-wall-to-wall England.
What are the years of hurt? Clearly there have been 55 of them, but when do they end? Are they over now that England have reached a first final since ’66? Must England actually win the tournament if they’re to end? We just don’t know, because this just doesn’t happen. Whether the years of hurt are officially over or not, they certainly feel over. ‘Hurt’ would not be an appropriate word to describe how the nation is feeling. The only people hurt today are the Danes, the rest of the UK, and what feels like everyone else in Europe. The common consensus is that England dived or lucked or, worse still, bribed their way into the final.
The Hand of God (D. Maradona, 1986); The Beckham Red (D. Simeone, 1998); The Disallowed Goal Part I (S. Campbell, 1998); The Disallowed Goal Part II (S. Campbell, 2004); The Disallowed Goal Part III (F. Lampard, 2010). “It’s about time one went our way!”Embed from Getty Images
As they moralistically assess whether their side truly deserves to be in a final, England fans can also take heart from just how dominant England were on the night. The Three Lions had a 58% share of possession against Denmark — more than they’ve had in any other match at these finals bar the Scotland stalemate. They also had 56 touches in the Danish box, more than any team has ever managed in a single Euros game of any stage since such stats were first recorded in 1980. Even the footballing neutral would have to accept that with such a level of dominance, England were putting themselves in a good position to ‘get lucky’. England looked bound to score late on. Eventually, via a rebound from a contentious penalty, they did.
It sent the nation and the New Wembley into hysteria. “Remember where you were for it,” as the cliché goes. No-one will be able to. Such sheer delight is universal, it transcends your ‘whereabouts’. But now that everyone has calmed down and returned to work or school and restocked the fridge, perhaps some perspective can be found.Embed from Getty Images
The world did carry on spinning. It was spinning when the free-kick went spinning past Jordan Pickford. It was spinning when England scored their late winner. And it was still spinning as Wembley treated the England players to a hopelessly out-of-dune rendition of a song by a man from Brooklyn, New York. It kept spinning. Other things happened. But were people talking about anything else? It certainly didn’t seem like it. England were all that mattered for the whole evening. As a wise old journalist said recently, England are public property, at a time when very few things still are.
In a time of such division — political, socially distanced and other — England have brought people together. There is still the minority who ensure England fans retain their reputation as some of the world’s most ignorant, bigoted and violent. Some things never change. But elsewhere there is coming together. In almost all the ways that this England team could change things for the better, within their power, they have done.Embed from Getty Images
There is a distinct possibility, some would say a reasonably high probability, that Italy will win Euro 2020 on Sunday. That England won’t. But with their place in the final secured, perhaps the football is now only the second-most important thing. Maybe now the priority is to savour the fact that England are even in a final. To cheer and smile and come together — and then to smile a little longer.
They’ve already pulled on the heartstrings of the nation like nothing else for a pitifully long time. And so England don’t need to win. Winning would be a bonus.
Still… WHAT a bonus it would be.