LONDON — England didn’t throw it away. They didn’t blow it away. Their fans know they can play.
They will remember these players wearing Three Lions on a shirt, who fought back in a semifinal brilliantly to reach a major final for the first time since 1966, and their first-ever European Championship final.
At the final whistle Wembley was ear-blisteringly loud, as the players and fans sung Sweet Caroline as one, after singing ‘Football’s Coming Home’ as one.
As an Englishman born and raised in the country which codified this beautiful game we all love dearly, I can’t tell you how happy I was to witness England reach a major final in person. I wasn’t alone.
There is a togetherness and understanding of what winning a tournament would mean. But not only that. Nobody actually knows what to do now. This is a bonus. Nobody ever thought England would get to a final. The Three Lions are playing with house money.
England’s history doesn’t do success. It does heartbreak.
🙌 England players and fans celebrate reaching a first major final since 1966 by singing Sweet Caroline at Wembley.
— Joe Prince-Wright (@JPW_NBCSports) July 7, 2021
That’s why ‘Football’s Coming Home’ and that cheesy, but brilliant, song means so much to these England fans who want nothing more than to see their team win something. Anything.
They are one step away from doing that on home soil, as they beat Denmark in extra time to set up a final against Italy, right back here at Wembley.
With 66,000 fans (mostly their own) inside their Wembley home, it will be the best chance they’ve had to finally bring it home.
But it’s not about the destination with England, it’s about the journey.
Why does this song upset so many?
Throughout the journey of this tournament, England fans have been widely lambasted for singing ‘Football’s Coming Home’ for days, if not weeks on end. They have been accused of arrogance.
Really? The entire song is about despair and decades of disappointment, but still believing it will, one day, come home.
Played over and over, it is a sort of English osmosis, part of the psyche which makes you believe just enough that it is coming home. But also that it’s not coming home. And it probably never will. But if we say it ironically, maybe it will…
Ask any of my friends from other countries who have been telling me England will win a tournament, or get close. I’ve been quashing that notion for years.
I still remember walking to primary school in England the morning after Gareth Southgate had a penalty kick saved in 1996, waving an England flag sadly down the entrance to the school.
That was 25 years ago, when England were knocked out in the semifinals of the European Championships by Germany, at Wembley.
25 years on, this feels good. There’s a sense of happiness rather than expectation.
There is no arrogance about this song. Not at all. It is more about protecting oneself in an extremely English way. We want to have ambition, but lord no, we don’t want to win the bloody thing. We couldn’t do that.
Well, England are 90 minutes away from doing it.
Three Lions entering a strange new world
It was never going to be easy to get to this point. It is never easy in major tournaments for England.
Before the semifinal it was fairly easy (the last-16 win over Germany aside), but in the semifinal they went behind to a stunning free kick to concede for the first time in six games. Not again?
Then, England’s equalizer provided just enough hope.
Harry Maguire and Raheem Sterling were denied by wonder saves by Kasper Schmeichel. Was it going to be one of those nights again? Probably.
There were shouts for a penalty kick on Harry Kane, but a lengthy VAR check saw nothing given.
Extra time arrived. And in extra time they won a penalty kick, which seemed very harsh on Denmark, but maybe all of those years of heartbreak and bad luck saw England finally come out on top? Even that was saved, but Kane scored the rebound.
Of course, this is about a lot more than just luck or finally getting your moment to shine.
Southgate has assembled a fine squad of players who are all pulling in the right direction and are finally fulfilling their potential.
Maybe, it is, indeed, coming home?
“We will remember this day for the rest of our lives,” one England fan, the father, said to his family on the train heading in to central London before the Denmark game.
They will. And that’s a beautiful thing.
There is a long list of tournament heartbreaks for England, usually on penalty kicks, over the years. Too many to list now.
So much so that there’s a sense of foreboding every time England kick off a major tournament. But this time it has been a little different.
This time there is more optimism. With flags on cars and buildings and people gathering with friends and family in pubs and at houses, there has been a huge wave of positivity around this England team.
On and off the pitch they have stood up for the right things, continuing to use their ever-growing platform in the ongoing fight against racism, injustice and inequality.
This England side have pretty much the whole nation on their side. And pretty much the whole nation is watching.
On home soil, this just hits differently.
England goes wild for major tournaments that aren’t close to home, but with six of England’s seven games in this tournament at Wembley, the excitement and pride is far greater.
The atmosphere around Wembley before, during and after games is one of extreme positivity. Of course, it helps if you’re winning, but it’s more about where this team is going.
Even if football doesn’t come home this summer, it might come home in the future. And that’s the beauty of this. It always goes on.
Except, if England actually win this thing, they have brought it home. Then what? That is something England aren’t even dreaming about.
Pop a question mark on the end: Football’s Coming Home?