Gareth Southgate's England team have already ended decades of footballing hurt - Chris Bond

My love affair with football began with the 1982 World Cup.

Harry Kane lead's the players' celebrations after England's semi-final victory over Denmark on Wednesday night. (Getty images).

The noise, the colour and excitement were bewitching to a nine-year-old boy and players with exotic names like Zico, Socrates and Platini lit up this technicolour world.

For all these titans of the beautiful game, it was the likes of Trevor Francis, Peter Shilton and Bryan Robson, who were my new heroes.

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“We’re on our way, we are Ron’s 22...” the England squad bellowed enthusiastically, if not musically, on the team’s official song. Indeed they were on their way – on their way out of the tournament after Kevin Keegan contrived to miss a near-open goal against Spain, thus presenting West Germany with safe passage to the semi-finals.

Not for the first time, nor the last, English tears (including those of this nine-year-old boy) were spilled.

Had I known back then that nearly 40 years later I’d still be waiting for England to reach a major final (never mind win one), I might have opted to follow a different sport. But by then, of course, I was already hooked by a game that can stir the emotions like no other.

The intervening years have been one of footballing heartache, near misses and on more than one occasion, abject failure.

In 1986 we were beaten by Diego Maradona’s brilliance and the infamous ‘hand of God’. Four years later myself and a group of pals went through the emotional ringer in a pub in Tynemouth as we watched England lose to West Germany in a penalty shoot-out. At Euro 96 it was a different venue (a pub in Newcastle), but the same result – defeat in another dreaded penalty shoot-out, again to the Germans.

More penalty misery followed at the Euros in 2004 and the World Cup in 2006, with Portugal our nemesis this time.

It was enough to make you think the team was hexed. So much so that being England manager was seen by many as a poisoned chalice and became dubbed ‘the impossible job’ (there’s even a BBC documentary called Managing England: The Impossible Job).

Nevertheless, some of the biggest names in the sport have taken it on, including Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, yet all have fallen short.

The tabloid press has, at times, been merciless in its criticism of past managers and their perceived shortcomings – the late Graham Taylor was famously dubbed a turnip by The Sun, while Steve McClaren was labelled the ‘Wally with the Brolly’ as his side lost 3-2 at a sodden Wembley and missed Euro 2008.

Even the hugely respected and much-missed Bobby Robson didn’t escape their wrath, with headlines calling for him to be sacked in the run-up to the 1990 World Cup.

The nadir came in 2016 when Roy Hodgson’s England were knocked out of the Euros by Iceland (a country that has more volcanoes than professional footballers and a population less than half that of Leeds).

Football may be a funny old game, to use Jimmy Greaves’ well-worn phrase, but for England fans there has been precious little to smile about over the past half a century. Until now that is.

Enter Gareth Southgate When he took over five years ago the team, and its relationship with the fans, was at rock bottom and not even the most optimistic of English supporters could have envisaged the transformation that has followed.

On the pitch, the likes of Harry Kane, Kyle Walker and Jordan Henderson have led by example, but off it they take their cue from the manager. They trust one another and there is a special bond between them that has perhaps been missing from previous squads.

As fans and the media have been swept along in a growing crescendo of excitement and expectation, Southgate has cut a calm, thoughtful and dignified figure.

This was in evidence once again at the end of England’s nail-biting victory over the Danes on Wednesday when his first reaction was to console his opposite number Kasper Hjulmand. Only then did he make his way to the massed ranks of English supporters and let rip with a volley of fist pumps and clenches.

This young England team is on the cusp of greatness and it would be fitting if Southgate and his players emerged victorious on Sunday evening, for not only would it go some way to exorcising the painful memories of Euro 96, when he missed the crucial penalty that condemned us to defeat, it would create lasting memories for a new generation of fans too young to remember past disappointments and for whom phrases like ‘30 years of hurt’ mean nothing.

But whatever happens on Sunday night, we should celebrate the fact that England finally has its footballing mojo back and that the foundations are in place for a bright and successful future for our men’s national team.

And how many times have we ever been able to say that?