‘Ultimately, I’m a City fan first and foremost and that will never change. Nothing England do will ever compare with the sheer visceral excitement of watching my team score, or see out a landmark win, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care what happens on Sunday, just that whatever the result, the effects will be less dramatic!‘
Thus wrote Canaries Trust chairman and MFW contributor Robin Sainty in the Pink Un on Saturday morning and I have to say he spoke for me too – and probably many other footsoldiers of the Y’Army as well.
So the Henri Delauney trophy lodges in Rome for four years, but at least the elegant cup, its minders and the engraver had 24 hours in Wembley, North West London. A place Norwich City fans are very familiar with and over almost the last 50 years our record there remains played four, won two, lost two, goals for three, goals against two.
Please join me in feeling empathy with Gareth Southgate and his marvellous young squad who [let’s be honest here] came up short against Roberto Mancini’s Italy outfit to fall at the final hurdle.
Luke Shaw’s cracking goal after only two minutes led to an outbreak of joy and sheer optimism amongst England supporters but I wouldn’t be giving an honest opinion if I said anything other than: you cannot defend for 88 minutes, however adept you are within the discipline. We got caught out and suffered accordingly.
No disrespect to Southgate who thought that was the way to go but the constant Italian high press and utter domination of midfield had us on the back foot and looking wearier by the minute. Frankly, I don’t know how we stiffed it out to extra time, but we did – and came into the game much more during the additional period.
With looming penalties the only show in town, Southgate opted for the introduction of Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho in something like the 118th minute. Bad move on this occasion Gareth, I’m afraid – as we will all have witnessed.
I’m not going through the shoot-out drama. Nobody surely wishes to recall it.
I’d better settle for the hackneyed phrase of same old, same old – as in when England manage to turn a winning *penalties* position into a complete buggers muddle despite a performance from Jordan Pickford that our very own Tim Krul would have been proud of.
Moving swiftly on, Southgate has achieved so much by getting England followers back onside and assembling a genuinely likeable squad of exciting young players who will surely only improve between now and the 2022 World Cup. There is a genuine enthusiasm for this squad that I cannot recall in slightly over fifty years.
Youngsters have role models like Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Kalvin Phillips. Add on Harry’s Kane and Maguire if you wish. For people of my vintage, Southgate is the first England manager I have been able to relate to since El Tel – and for totally different reasons. Everybody uses the word *decent* to describe Southgate and quite rightly so.
The team had pre-match messages from HRH the Queen, Prince William and, erm, Boris Johnson.
Locally the NNUH said: “Our patients need not miss out on watching this Sunday’s Euro 2020 final, as we’ve arranged for bedside TV screens to be unlocked in time for kick-off at 8pm so they can view the match free of charge.”
As always there’s no political punditry from me but it surely goes to show how England’s performance alerted some of the powers that be in this sceptred isle not seen during recent FIFA/UEFA tournaments. Maybe some of it was pseudo, perhaps there was an element of bandwagon jumping from certain quarters but the point remains: they took notice.
So, although I speak from a slightly lower strata of society, I’d like to say that I truly appreciate what Gareth Southgate and his England squad have brought to me and hopefully many more of us over the last few weeks: a bit of pride, a bit of pleasure and some fond memories of the tournament
And after all, we can realistically dream of a great performance in the World Cup next year, can’t we?