Most students at Nottingham Trent University are of a similar age to me; I’m 21 for anyone who is asking. We are all part of the same generation as a lot of the England players representing our country in the European Championship.
Mason Mount, who started the semi-final win over Denmark, is 10 months older than me, Reece James is two months younger, Jadon Sancho is five months younger, Phil Foden, who came on off the bench, is seven months younger, Bukayo Saka, who featured from the start, is nearly two years younger. And the less said about teenage sensation Jude Bellingham the better.
We weren’t around for Euro 96, the last great moment our national team had produced before the Russia World Cup of 2018. While I have vague memories of the 2006 World Cup, and an England team that could, and perhaps should, have won it throwing it away against Portugal, it’s not something that gave me sleepless nights then or now. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa is where my, and I suspect many others, emotional scarring from England truly begins. England were desperately poor in the groups – we all remember Goalkeeper Rob Green’s error against the USA. The exit against Germany was another depressing moment, especially with the added controversy of the Frank Lampard non-goal.
I’m sure lots of you remember the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, waking up at some ridiculous time in the morning to watch England play Italy in Manaus. That 2-1 defeat featured both Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling for England and of course the ever-present Giorgio Chiellini for the Italians – hopefully Sunday is a very different story.
And then came Euro 2016, we all have our memories of watching the Wales game – you may have had it on during a lesson, or for me round a mate’s house for his birthday while we were on study leave. The Iceland game took things to a whole new depressing level, it was the low point that has made what has followed since possible.
I’ve never watched the game back and I couldn’t tell you a great deal about it because I have tried to erase it from my memory. Iceland was the embarrassment that shook England and the FA to their core. The manager Roy Hodgson resigned in his post-match press conference. Jumping before he was pushed doesn’t really do it justice, it was more shooting himself before the FA could fix a target on his back.
The one-match tenure of ‘Big’ Sam Allardyce was another embarrassment for English football and the appointment of the man now referred to as Gareth ‘the one’ Southgate was met with little excitement. But Southgate has changed the fortunes of the England team. He has been helped by having some brilliant players, but we’ve had brilliant players before and still achieved nothing better than a quarter-final.
This team are no longer at war with the media; they are seen as likeable, decent blokes. The England shirt has stopped becoming a burden and instead become a privilege. You only have to watch the daily training videos to see how together this group are. They are relatable, especially for our generation. We share some of the same experiences as these boys, probably watched the same TV shows growing up and have the same set of England memories. According to Rescue-UK.org eight of the 11 that started the game last night had at least one parent or grandparent born overseas. In a similar way to the England cricket team that were crowned world champions two years ago they represented what England is now, a truly global and multi-cultural country with influences from different parts of the world.
They also stand up for what they believe in. Marcus Rashford has taken on the government and won on two occasions in his fight to get more food for the children of low-income households. Sterling has tackled racism in the media head on and Henderson has an MBE for his charitable work. They have all taken the knee before every game, defying the clowns who boo.
I think making everyone love the team again is Southgate’s greatest achievement. This squad is no more talented than the one that went to the Euros in 2004 or the World Cup in 2006, but they work together as a team and in doing so have brought the country together. Even politicians who at the start of the pandemic were calling these players ‘greedy’ and demanding they donate money to the NHS, which they did, have started supporting the team.
Just a matter of weeks ago some politicians were saying it’s ok to boo players for taking the knee. Home Secretary Priti Patel declared on social media yesterday that “It’s coming home”, despite the fact that the immigration policies she is pursuing would probably have prevented many of this team being here in the first place.
So, good luck on Sunday boys – whatever happens you’ve done us proud and given us hope – but if you wouldn’t mind bringing it home, I think everyone would appreciate it.
By Alex Brinton