An ode to England

Despite the actions of some in the streets and on social media, the English national team has done the nation proud

It was yet more penalty shootout heartache for England

July 11th 2021 is a day which will be forever tinged in sadness for England fans. It started for me sitting in a pub, over three hours before kick off, nervously counting down the minutes. It ended, shortly after 11pm, waiting for a lift in an empty Farmfoods car park.

When Bukayo Saka took the final kick of Euro 2020, it brought to an end a tournament that none of us would forget in a hurry.

The 19 year old Arsenal attacker was brought off the bench to give an extra spark to an English attack that was being blunted by a rigorous and typically stubborn Italian back line. He was handed the clinical penalty following an outstanding stop from Jordan Pickford to keep England in the final.

Saka would see his effort stopped by Gianluigi Donnarumma, bringing to an end the shoot-out and four weeks of tournament football.

Saka should never have had this responsibility placed on his shoulders. His miss was heartbreak for the nation, but none more than the young man himself. Being thrust into this position was not what anyone wanted, but it’s the learning curve he will never forget.

What is unforgivable is the tirade of racial abuse received by Saka following the match. These people are not football fans and, in fact, they lack basic human decency.

The scenes of violence on the streets around Wembley and across London tarnished the day from an English perspective, and led to deserved condemnation from people at home and around the world.

Those responsible for both the racist abuse and the violent scenes need to be brought to account, but the efforts of the players on the pitch need to be remembered.

This group of players will grow. Their young age is summed up by the players who are receiving the abuse online. Marcus Rashford has been on the international stage for several years and is still only 23.

The man has achieved so much both on and off the pitch, and his moment in an England shirt, as well as Saka and Jadon Sancho, will come.

The summer of 2021 has brought untold joy and pleasure to England fans everywhere. We have a squad of players who we can be proud of, and a manager who has conducted himself with the respect and passion we have come to associate him with.

Yes, it ended in disappointment, and this is something no one can argue with. But the progress made by the England squad during this summer is progress that has not been made for over 50 years.

The quality of England’s squad goes without saying. But more than this, we have players who have character and are genuinely likeable.

The people who racially abused players and brought violence to the streets of the capital do not represent England football fans. Their actions have tarnished a special occasion for the national side, but they will not win. Humanity and hope will prevail; always.

With the World Cup in Qatar less than 18 months away, the vast majority of this squad will be available to play. Some of the younger players, such as Saka, Sancho and Jude Bellingham, will have plenty more football under their belt and will learn valuable lessons from the penalty shootout heartbreak.

The side will go again and, under Gareth Southgate, will learn and grow ahead of the next major tournament.

Not for a long time has an England side and manager given so much hope and pride to the nation. Yes, we fell at the excruciatingly painful final hurdle, but the joy that the side gave us over the last month came at a time where the country needed something to smile about.

England needed unity, and over the course of the summer, our team has been successful in achieving this.