I’m writing this on what can genuinely be described as the morning after the night before. It’s not exactly a feeling of grief, but certainly a feeling on intense loss. Last night was probably the only chance I will get to witness England winning a major tournament, and in the end it all ended in a tremendous anti-climax. People will always point fingers, but that is not what anyone should be doing this morning. Instead, we should reflect on the fact that this is a young team which hasn’t yet reached its full potential. Throughout my life England have either failed to qualify for major tournaments or failed to deliver on their potential. We won the World Cup when I was four years old. We reached the semi-final of Euro 96. But in 2018 we reached the World Cup semi-final and we reached the final of this year’s Euro 2020 tournament. That is progress, pure and simple. In this tournament we saw a team which is the personification of what the word team actually means. They were playing for each other and their manager. There were no cliques. Their style reminded me of the successful German teams of the past. They were strong defensively, solid in midfield and capable of scoring great goals, but not necessarily permanently exciting. Their commitment was total, and there are so many moments from this tournament we can use to soak up the anguish of last night’s penalty shoot-out. Will any of us forget the victory over Germany or the thrashing of Ukraine? And that’s what we must do, concentrate on the positives and banish the negatives from last night.
Before we do that, however, we have to address some of the awful scenes from last night. Just as my group had got through the first two stages of security I heard a commotion and looked around to see around 200 people breaking through the barriers and rushing up the steps into the stadium. I’m told this happened elsewhere too. None of these so-called fans had tickets. I’m told that they were then confronted by fans with tickets and told to leave the stadium in no uncertain terms. There were other pockets of thuggery outside the stadium. And then one fan breached security and ran on to the pitch in the second half. All of this will affect our nascent bid for the 2030 World Cup. It was a reminder of scenes past. This should not obscure the fact that generally there was a very good atmosphere before the game. I had feared what might happen afterwards, but all I saw were England and Italian fans mixing well, and lots of England fans shaking the hands of their Italian counterparts.
What really has been sickening is the racist abuse doled out on social media to the three players who missed the penalties. It shames the people who do it and it shames us as a country. Had they all scored, those very same people would no doubt have cheered them on for helping us win the final.
I know how lucky I was to attend the final, and I will be forever grateful to my friend who gave me the ticket. When I, probably rather stupidly, said on social media I had got a ticket I was told on social media that I wasn’t a true football fan and I should raffle it for charity or give it to someone else. Quite incredible. I’ve been going to England internationals since I was 11 in 1974. I’ve been a West Ham season ticket holder for 29 years and own and run a West Ham blog, www.westhamtillidie.com. I shouldn’t have to prove my football credentials, but it seems many people’s default it to reach for insults and allegations which have no basis in fact.
Apart from the result, the only blot on an otherwise fantastic experience was when my cab failed to turn up after the game. Addison Lee had already messed up my journey to the stadium, but they didn’t think it was even worth telling me that they wouldn’t be sending a cab to pick me up afterwards. I even booked it 48 hours in advance. I then walked for two miles in the rain before getting on a night bus to Euston. And then it took me 45 minutes to find a cab to take me to my hotel on the south bank. I eventually had to get an Uber. I arrived back in my hotel at 2.10am. If we had won, I wouldn’t have given a toss about that experience, but it poured misery on disappointment!
As I write this, Gareth Southgate is giving a press conference. He sounds like a broken man. It’s understandable, but he will soon pick himself up, and indeed, his team. The 2022 World Cup is just round the corner and the preparation for that starts now. Southgate is the definition of the quiet man who just commands the respect of virtually everyone. Leadership comes in many forms, and he’s very different to the stereotypical football manager leader. No hairdryers from him. He inspires in a different way. I hope there isn’t even a single thought that he might leave the job. It’s only half done. We can do well in next year’s World Cup, and Gareth Southgate is the man to lead us into it. I’d like to think the whole country could agree with that statement.
So as we bid farewell to Euro 2020, let’s try to remember all the positives and learn the lessons that need to be learned. That’s all anyone can ask.