With one swipe of Harry Kane’s right foot, a party 55 years in the making swept across England last night.
From the beer showers in the Boxpark to the elation in Exeter – criss-crossing wild celebrations in front rooms, pubs and parks in Newcastle, Manchester – this was a primal scream of pleasure that brought the nation together behind Gareth Southgate’s band of brothers.
Slaying the ghosts of Turin, Euro ’96 and that long night in Russia, England looked almost unrecognisable at times – confident, assured, making us wonder what all the fuss was about. Passing the ball with precision and intelligence in extra time, they looked unlike any of their predecessors who had conspired to add to the compendium of Three Lions’ catastrophes down the years. They were strong. They had grown. Wasn’t it brilliant?
Each video or picture told its own story. From the young Muslim students crowding round their laptop, going crazy at Kane’s penalty to players singing along with the joyous Sweet Caroline in Wembley stadium, this was a once-in-a-generation experience to be cherished forever.
And it’s not over yet. Sunday brings the sternest of tests against an Italian side who have been the outstanding team of the Euros so far. But we can win.
And whatever happens, Monday should be turned over to celebrating everything they’ve done for a country in desperate need of something to get behind after a traumatic 18 months.
A Bank Holiday in honour of Gareth Southgate – that most modest but impressive of leaders – and his team of heroes is the least they deserve. Win or lose, we can barbecue, reminisce, visit friends and family and raise a toast or drown our sorrows.
England have earned it. England has earned it.
Because make no mistake, this team are different. Their discipline in the groups caused grumbles but they have grown into the tournament, led by the brilliant, bold Raheem Sterling but underpinned by warriors like Harry Maguire and the midfield metronome Kalvin Phillips, written off before a ball was kicked.
And that is just what they’ve achieved on the pitch. What they stand for off it is just as impressive.
For the last five years, it feels like people who relish trying to divide us have had the upper hand.
Even before this tournament began, the team were under fire from figures who should know better, hell-bent on mangling the anti-racism message that underpinned their brave decision to take the knee and send a message on equality.
How stupid they look now; or how conveniently they’ve forgotten their craven refusal to condemn those who wanted to sow division.
What’s been so uplifting is that this team speak for all of us. From Jordan Henderson’s support for LGBTQ fans to Marcus Rashford’s free school meals crusade, they are no ordinary collection of young men.
And they have scrapped and struggled to get where they are: from the hills of Sheffield to the concrete jungles of North London, each has a tale of perseverance that the nation can recognise. Theirs are inspirational tales that should swell the chest with pride.
Monday is a time to celebrate that, even if they fall at the final hurdle. They have given us a special summer and a Bank Holiday would be a fitting way to end the adventure.