The crosses of St George are flying all around me, Gareth Southgate, the whole of England is with you…
So today is the day the Euro 2020 kicks off and as a veteran supporter of England’s campaigns, it’s almost inevitable that I am full of belief that we will get knocked out in the group stage after a shock 3-1 loss to Scotland.
World Cup 2002 is the first major tournament I remember and since then I feel like I’ve seen it all, heartbreak in Japan when Seaman was caught off his line, in 2004 Sol Campbell’s goal being inexplicably being ruled out by a referee in Lisbon before the dreaded penalties struck again. In 2006 we saw Rooney being conned by that winker Ronaldo before Portugal put us out again on penalties. As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve seen Steve McClarren with an umbrella, Postman Pat impersonator Fabio Capello’s side surrender to the Germans who thrashed us 4-1, then it was penalties in 2012 as Roy Hodgson took charge. In 2014 we finished bottom of the group, before Euro 2016 when Harry Kane was taking corners as we lost to Vikings and then Sam Allardyce drank a pint of wine.
Southgate You’re the One
All of this led us back to Gareth Southgate, the man whose penalty had seen England knocked out in Euro 96. Thrust into the limelight after Allardyce resigned in 2016, his only real managerial record was relegation with Middlesborough but he put on a waistcoat and something amazing happened during that hot summer of 2018. We beat Tunisia, smashed Panama, who I think won a raffle to be there, and sure we lost to Belgium but the football was decent and England was behind the team. In the last 16 we played Colombia and it went to penalties, I remember being sat at home, chain smoking and staring at the TV through the window and then IT happened. England won a penalty shootout. I couldn’t believe it, then we beat Sweden and suddenly England were in a semi final.
In the age of the pandemic and everything else, it is easy to forget how big this was. We were all looking at buying waistcoats, Baddiel and Skinner were back in the charts and grown men were singing in the streets to the tune of Atomic Kitten: ‘Looking back at when we first met, I cannot escape and I cannot forget, Southgate you’re the one, you still turn me on, Football’s Coming Home Again.’
This was it, we were going to win the World Cup, Croatia, meh so what, looking beyond that we could beat France and yeah sure Belgium beat us in the group stage but we’re on a roll. Then five minutes into the game, Kieran Trippier sent the nation into a frenzy with the finest freekick we’ve seen since Beckham at Old Trafford against Greece. Then Ivan Perisic stepped up and sent the game to extra time, no biggy, extra half hour, hell we can even win penalties these days. But it wasn’t to be, Mario Mandzukic nipped in and scored a winner, we had 11 minutes to find an equalizer but we all knew it, the game had gone.
So here we are. Tonight Turkey and Italy get us underway, England don’t actually play until Sunday when we seek revenge against Croatia, then on Friday night we face the auld enemy as the Scots head to Wembley and on Tuesday June 22 we play the Czechs. I have my doubts that we’ll make it through this group, too many players not on top form, Henderson and Maguire not fully fit, Jordan Pickford’s small arms, Marcus Rashford being preoccupied with being leader of the opposition. But if we do, the 90s tunes will be back in the charts, I’ll be down M&S checking out the waistcoats and it’ll be raining beer all over the place.
Even if we don’t make it out the group stage, or end up playing the Germans in the quarters, I think the wider point is that it has been a shit year and finally we can find something to unite the UK once again as the Scottish hope the English lose, the Welsh, who have a really hard group themselves, hope the English lose and the English hope they both lose. But what do the Manx do? Well if you don’t want to see any of the home nations win, I’d probably back the French or the Germans as they have the best chance of winning.