Football might not have come home quite yet, but it is poised to knock on the door and be welcomed in very soon, thanks to an exceptionally gifted group of players who have given their hearts and souls for their country over these past weeks.
To reach the final of a tournament for the first time in 55 years is a massive success that should be saluted. As teams considered Europe’s elite have fallen by the wayside, England’s tenacity and skill took them to within touching distance of one of the great prizes in world football.
There is not the slightest shame in losing. England gave their all, as they did throughout, and in doing so have created an exciting and optimistic future for the national side.
England may not have lifted the trophy, but they are winners all the same. The three lions have roared that the national side is a force to be reckoned with.
Every cheer and every celebration of them is deserved. This has been a monumental achievement to wipe away decades of disappointment at sub-standard England performances that left the nation frustrated and wondering why the country that invented football was unable to compete at the sport’s most exalted level.
No more. Last night’s final and the wins in both group and knockout stages served notice that a new golden age for the national side has dawned.
Ghosts of the past have been laid to rest along the way, among them that old rivals Germany were all but unbeatable and that England too often lost their nerve in quarter or semi-finals.
This great renaissance is in large part thanks to a man who had his own ghost to lay to rest. Manager Gareth Southgate was for years dogged by the label of being the player whose missed penalty cost England a place in the final of the 1996 Euros.
No longer. He will now forever be the man who reinvigorated the national side and coached it in how to become winners.
More than that, Southgate has rightfully become one of the most admired figures in our public life, thanks to his graciousness, modesty, unflappability and good humour.
Southgate, who lives in Yorkshire, is held in such high regard not only for his personal qualities, which embody the very best of our national characteristics, but because he understands the uniquely unifying role that the England football team can play in the life of the nation.
That recognition has given England’s progress through the Euros an importance which goes beyond football. The team and its manager have not only helped to lift the nation’s spirits, but brought it together in celebration of what it means to be English.
Our nation has been beset by divisions in recent years. Four years of bitter acrimony over Brexit, increasingly polarised party politics and culture wars over matters of identity and free speech have caused uncertainty and angst.
The Covid epidemic, with its terrible human cost, has only added to that sense of uncertainty by turning lives upside down and destroying livelihoods.
England’s success is a reminder that teamwork and rallying together in a common cause overcomes divisions, and pride in the country is cause for celebration.
The crowds at Wembley have been outnumbered many times over by those of differing backgrounds who have gathered in pubs, sports clubs, at outdoor screens and in living rooms to make common cause in cheering the team on.
After the enforced separations of Covid, these weeks of the Euros have allowed people to rediscover the joys of sharing an occasion with others.
It has helped that the team reflects the character of its manager, as well as the country as a whole in its diversity.
This is a group of players who fulfil the obligation upon sports stars to be good examples to the young, not only in their sportsmanship and determination to give their all for the country, but in the social conscience and actions to help the underprivileged that so many of them display.
That is part of the reason why the people of this country have taken this team, and its manager, to their hearts more closely than any side since the World Cup winners.
They have seen in this exceptionally talented group of sportsmen a decency and concern for others that mirrors their own lives.
This is English football at its best, both on and off the pitch. The World Cup beckons next year, and England fans should look forward to it with relish.