Five years ago England looked utterly hopeless as they crashed out of Euro 2016 following a 2-1 defeat against Iceland. Roy Hodgson immediately resigned from his post as England manager. With his words in a press conference the next day summing up his tenure perfectly – “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”

The next manager to take up the so-called poisoned chalice was Sam Allardyce. However, 67 days, one game and a Daily Telegraph investigation later, he too resigned.

With an exciting crop of young players coming through the ranks the reigns were given to Gareth Southgate ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. After years of disappointed expectations were low going into the tournament.

However, Southgate and his England side defied expectations and made it to extra-time of the semi-finals before losing to Croatia. Along the way they ended the penalty curse with a shootout win against Colombia and breezed through a quarter final against Sweden.

But the highlight was the spirit of the nation. People who have little interest in football were hooked. Memes were flying left, right and centre. The nation truly believed football was coming home for the first time since 1966.

Everything changed in the years since. We all adapted to a new way of living due to the pandemic. Spurs reached the Champions League final, Liverpool finally won a league title. And Euro 2020 joined the Olympics and Eurovision in being pushed back a year.

But one thing didn’t change. The belief that Southgate and this young group of English talent could bring football home – they couldn’t, could they?

England at the Euros – The Good

After a rough opening six months of 2021 spent in lockdown there were reasons to be optimistic. The vaccine rollout in the UK was going very well. Freedom day was edging closer and closer and West Ham reached the dizzying heights of Europa League qualification.

However, the thing I was most excited about with the delayed Euro 2020 was watching the games with my friends. As good as the Premier League was for my club West Ham it wasn’t the same. Stadiums seemed soulless due to the lack of crowds and living by myself during lockdown meant I had no one to enjoy the games with.

I watched the opening game of the tournament – Italy vs Turkey – in a pub a stones throw away from my flat. Myself and three friends were instantly buzzing at the sound of Andrea Bocelli belting out Nessun Dorma in front of a crowd. Although the signs of COVID were still present it felt like football was back.

A friend hosted England’s 1-0 World Cup revenge win over Croatia with a BBQ during the mini heatwave we were blessed with. It was the first time I’d seen a lot of those friends in 2021 so to draw a line under that with a winning start to England’s Euro campaign in the sun was superb.

I watched England’s remaining group games at a cricket club where I used to play. Once again surrounded by friends although the rule of six remained meaning we were socially distanced on tables.

England vs Germany

In all my life Germany have caused the most upset when it comes to supporting England. It’s hard to look past Frank Lampard’s goal that never was in the 2010 World Cup as the worst of them all.

Despite so many years of hurt against Germany, I saw it as a good time to play them. They weren’t as strong as they have been in past meetings and we were considerably better.

I managed to book a table of six for the same pub I watched the tournaments opener. The game kicked off at 5pm and my nerves were as high as they have ever been ahead of an England game.

The six of us who went to the pub were not okay. My friend Marcus’ legs were shaking as he drunk his third pint of Camden Hells in the game’s opening exchanges. Although this England side is really good, you just never know against Germany.

Obviously everyone knows what happened next. England won 2-0 with goals from Raheem Sterling and a first of the tournament for Harry Kane.

That game is the best experience i’ve ever had watching England – surpassing the penalty shootout win against Colombia. I’ll never forget the euphoria of those goals going in. As well as the fear of seeing Thomas Müller run in one on one quickly followed by the relief of seeing his shot go wide.

By trying to live a life filled with experience over material goods I know what it feels like when these moments come along. The England vs Germany game will forever be one of those times where I remember who I was with, what I was wearing, where I was etc. And because it was the first experience like that in close to 18 months because of the pandemic it was even sweeter.

We soon found out that England would face Ukraine in the quarter final. Things were looking great.

But then I got a notification from the NHS Track and Trace app.

England at the Euros – The Bad

The timing couldn’t have been much worse. I had planned to watch the quarter-final clash against Ukraine at my friends house. The event would have seen me reunited with more or less all of my friends and I was so excited.

Sadly, this is the world we’re living in for a few days longer. I couldn’t change it. Instead I had to watch the quarter and semi-finals by myself at home while I was self-isolating.

It could have potentially gotten worse if I returned a positive COVID test which would have resulted in watching the final alone. Plus I would’ve had COVID. However, the test came back negative. To be honest I expected it to. I was always cautious and remained socially distant at the pub or gym so it was just bad luck to be honest.

I’ll go into more detail about the isolation next week where I talk about freedom day but it wasn’t a good time. Throughout the pandemic I’ve always gone outside for walks, runs, cycles and even food shops but I couldn’t do any of that. The only thing I had to look forward to were the England games. And everyone knows games of that magnitude are rarely enjoyable.

The Ukraine game was fine. Although the Germany game will be a better memory I can’t think of a better England performance than the quarter final. Scoring early in both halves in a 4-0 meant there was little room for nerves to ruin the experience.

The same cannot be said for the semi-final. Watching this game was truly a horrible experience. My heart rate was very high. I was pacing around my living room in front of the tv. I had to take a breather on my balcony at every interval. It was rough.

Despite screaming at my TV at times, when the full-time whistle went and England were in the final I was speechless. I just stood up with my hands behind my head in shock. England were in the final. England. Were in the final.

England at the Euros – The Ugly

My COVID test returned negative which meant my isolation ended before the final. I was a nervous wreck ahead of the game. I ran ten miles earlier in the day and didn’t think of anything but the game.

Obviously we know how it ended. Italy won the game and tournament on penalties. But the events before and after the game is why I see the final day as ugly. When England lost the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup in extra-time I was devastated. That wasn’t the case with Sunday’s final. I found it very hard to be upset about the loss after what happened around the game.

When England were 1-0 up against Croatia in the World Cup semi-final I was looking at overpriced flights to Russia because I was desperate to be part of it. Whereas now, three years later, I want to be nowhere near a live England game. The national team’s success brings out too many people I want nothing to do with.

It’s important to remember that these people jumping on buses, storming Wembley Stadium and racially abusing players – they’re not fans.

For me going to a live game of football is about being surrounded by like minded people, feeding off the energy of a live stadium crowd while cheering on your team. Losing is part of that. So is the anxiety ahead of a big game and the euphoria when your team wins.

The worst thing is I couldn’t bring myself to look at social media after the game because I expected to see reports of racist abuse. Although it’s a minority of people who used social media platforms to racially abuse Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after their missed penalties it is still too many.

As for what can be done to stamp it out I have no idea. Needing to provide a piece of ID when signing up for social media is a start. But that’s all it is – a start. There are a lot of problems in this country and sadly this is only one of them.

2021 London Marathon

I’m running the 2021 London Marathon for Mind!
If you wish to donate or keep up to date with how my training and fundraising is going you can do so by following the links below.
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I’m running the London Marathon for Mind!

England at Euro 2020: The good, the bad and the ugly

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