Christa Ackroyd: Why Yorkshire is key to an England success tonight

Today we are going to talk about football, so for those who wear their disinterest in the England team like a badge of honour, this one's probably not for you.
England manager Gareth SouthgateEngland manager Gareth Southgate
England manager Gareth Southgate

Have a good evening doing whatever you will be doing instead, but if we do lift that trophy, so tantalisingly within reach, you will regret not being a part of it, I promise, even if you can’t stand football. I know this is a lifestyle column but most of our lives will be put on hold for 90 minutes or more tonight. Or would you rather we talked about Brexit this week?

I thought not. At least tonight won’t be dull, although equally as unpredictable and, let’s face it, this is the best chance we have had of coming out on top in Europe and the rest of the world for a long time.

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Well I’ll be watching, albeit from behind a cushion. I have loved the atmosphere that has built over the last couple of weeks, how the number of flags has increased, how the excitement, expectation and hope has gone through the roof.Ignore the handful of idiots, 99.999 per cent of England fans celebrated victory against Sweden in style, just as our players did on the pitch.

I loved bumping into a group of women, an 82-year-old mother and her three daughters, still dressed in red and white and wearing silly hats in Malton on Saturday night. “Best time we’ve had in years,” was their verdict. “And we don’t even like football.” Well I don’t ‘love’ it ordinarily, but this isn’t just football. It’s drama unfolding, a cliffhanger of what seemed at the start a story of little potential that has built and built until we now have just two chapters left. And we still don’t know what happens next. I for one haven’t felt this good about a sporting event since the 2012 London Olympics. Not only is the weather sunny, 
so too is the mood of the country.

People are smiling 
(well probably not in Scotland ) and plans have been made to watch the game tonight with family and friends at home, at work, on big screens, in local pubs or sports clubs. The roads will be deserted, the shops empty. We want to win the World Cup and we want to go through every agonising moment together, collectively. And that feels good and positive and worth shouting about. I want there to be a ‘where were you when?’ moment as there was in ‘66.

And I want to treasure photographs of my three gorgeous grand-daughters wearing red and white bobbles in their hair, even though they are too young to understand why daddy and grandad were screaming at the telly. And it might happen yet.

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There is something very different about this England team and not just that they have broken the curse of the penalty shootout. I like to call it the Yorkshire factor. Under Gareth Southgate the lads, and they are lads, the youngest team in the competition, were written off before they even boarded the plane for Russia. Sixteen of them hadn’t been born the last time we reached the semi finals in 1990, when Gazza cried and Germany beat us again. But six of them were born in Yorkshire and another three played here. The manager calls Harrogate home and he wears a Yorkshire woollen waistcoat despite the searing heat, which promises to put us back on the fashion map as well as the sporting one. His players are strong, determined, hard-working and above all humble. Come on, don’t they all seem like nice lads even when faced with what’s become known as the ‘Columbian hug’?

Most of them have come up the hard way, playing for unfashionable clubs as lowly as Halifax Town or York City. They have fought to wear the three lions on their shirt. Well they are all superstars now, not just Harry Kane. So let’s give a special mention to our own, Kyle Walker (Sheffield), John Stones (Barnsley), Harry Maguire (Sheffield), Danny Rose ( Doncaster), Jamie Vardy (Sheffield) and Fabian Delph (Bradford) not to mention Jordan Pickford who played for Bradford City, Kieran Trippier who played for Barnsley and Gary Cahill who played for Sheffield United. The ‘beautiful game’ can be pretty ugly at times but not when played by the England team at the moment. That so many of them were made in Yorkshire bodes well. Remember how proud we were of the fact that if Yorkshire were a country we would have finished 12th at the London Olympics. Well once again England are going for gold in the form of the Jules Rimet trophy and if it’s Yorkshire grit we are looking for they have it aplenty, enough to de-ice even the frostiest of hearts. If it’s coming home, it’s coming home via God’s own county.