October 27, 2021

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30 million of us UK fans caught our breath … and then we went crazy

I keep thinking “I have never experienced anything like this”.

Well, it happened to me, of course not. If you were born after the 1950s, neither are you.

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30 million of us sat there holding our breath as England progressed to gloryCredit: Rex

We are in the football final. We have always known that this is theoretically possible, that it will certainly happen one day, and that it will be better when it happens, but we do not know what that feeling will be.

And – the latest news – this is fantastic.

At its heart is unity, which has manifested itself in all sorts of ways.

For example, my daughters, aged 18 and 21, never sat down to watch a football game with me last night. They worked so hard, I was a little worried about them – these things are not easy for the unfamiliar.

Then, as one, we began to breathe simultaneously before thirty million souls filled the night with cries of joy.Credit: LNP

Every nine months of the year there is a new bond between the fans who watch, love and suffer because of football, and who only get involved at times like this.

“How do you go about this every week?” They ask in surprise. The answer is, honestly, I don’t know.

This precious friendship is something that the epidemic has given us, albeit in a strange and terrifying way.

When Caspar Schmeichel saved Harry Kane's sentence, Kane may have passed once a second, and that second time half over the country
When Caspar Schmidt saved Harry Kane’s sentence, Kane may have passed once a second, and that second time more than half of the country stood still.Credit: Getty

We have met for the last 18 months. Now, coming together on the song, whether it’s Sweet Caroline or the Three Lions is really special.

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The joy was shared by many

Being in Wembley on Wednesday night should have been awesome, but watching it on TV was also amazing.

That’s true throughout the show, which is another wonderful thing about those moments. Usually, there is no alternative to participating in a sport – it’s the only way to feel like you’re experiencing it together.

We are in the football final.  We always knew it was theoretically possible, and of course one day it would happen - and it's very good
We are in the football final. We always knew this was theoretically possible, and certainly would happen one day – and it’s very goodCredit: Getty

But on Wednesday, I didn’t think it was important. We were on the same boat wherever we looked and heard.

Since the final whistle, it was awesome to see so many people sharing the joy, but it was one of those specific moments that caught me off guard.

I really wanted to know that the whole country is in the same pain at the same time during this game – mostly small parts.

It may have been a whole second since Caspar Schmidt saved Harry Kane’s sentence and buried Kane’s reunion.

At that moment, more than half of the country was still standing.

Gareth Southgate did just that
Gareth Southgate did just thatCredit: Getty

Think about it: More than thirty million people are holding their breath at the same time. This is one.

Then, as one, we, thirty million souls, began to breathe at once before filling the night with cries of joy.

There is so much goodwill in the air. I talked to Steve McLaren who didn’t have the best time as England manager.

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There was not a hint of bitterness or jealousy in his voice as he spoke of his happiness at how well Gareth Southgate had won. He managed Gareth as a player, at Middlesbrough, and was always sure he would go a long way as a coach.

He also spoke of one thing that went unnoticed in light of Gareth’s success in this tournament: the Football Association has made tremendous sums of money to make changes behind the scenes over the past decade.

Steve McLaren, who did not have the best time as an England boss, talks about his joy at how well Gareth Southgate has succeeded
Steve McLaren, who did not have the best time as an England boss, talks about his happiness at how well Gareth Southgate has succeededCredit: AFP – Getty

Many were involved, including Southgate, who worked tirelessly to modernize the entire organization long before becoming head coach.

Steve told me, “From the beginning, Gareth was there. He was responsible for the development. He was in schools and looked at the site. He was part of a team that worked with Premier League clubs, which is why we produce quality, quality young players through academies.

Love the whole team and the country

“Gareth comes with these players aged and under 21 and so on. He and the players are so close, that’s what’s important.

We would have been happy to finally see any England team in the final, but this England is extra special.

They are not only the best footballers, they are decent human beings, they play with each other.

We have admired our internationals in the past and often adore them. We loved the intruder.

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But now we love each other completely. This is why we are so eager to continue and win Sunday together.

If you were born after the 1950s you will not remember England being in a big final
If you were born after the 1950s you will not remember England being in a big finalCredit: AFP

If we do, I do not know that the ground on which we stand is strong enough to withstand the earthquake of joy.

If that happened then the celebrations would not be about success. They will go even further.

It would be really love – love the whole team, the country, even each other.

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