It’s been a long wait. I have fond memories of Robson, Lineker, Shearer, Sir Bobby, Gazza and Butcher and now we enter the quarter-finals tomorrow against Sweden.
We have one man to thank – Gareth Southgate, who has restored pride and dignity to our national team.
“Stay focused, let’s not go overboard,” is Gareth’s mantra as the rest of us get carried away by it all.
I’ve followed his career ever since he first pulled on the red shirt of Middlesbrough, the team I fell in love with in 1983.
Former England manager Steve McClaren, a target for the boo-boys after a disastrous spell in charge of the national side, made Gareth his first signing, setting the tone for success.
He captained Boro to League Cup victory and led us to the UEFA Cup final.
He brought pride and hope to a side bereft of ideas as Bryan Robson’s managerial reign ground to a halt.
I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Gareth on many occassions whether it be at a Middlesbrough Football Club function, Harrogate Town or on a junior playing field.
He’s a charming man, keen to engage and offer his well-structured opinion.
I’ve exchanged many pleasantries, offered messages of support and he is always quick to respond despite a busy schedule.
One particular night lives long in the memory.
Whilst working for England youth, he delivered a coaching course in Harrogate – all junior coaches were invited to watch and fire questions at him.
After the questions he called me over and said: “I have something for you.” He dug deep into his kit bag and pulled out the training top he wore when Boro won the League Cup – our first major trophy. He said to me: “I know how big a fan you are of Boro so you can have this.”
I couldn’t believe it. This is testament to his thoughtful nature. He’s signed my cartoons of him, quipping: “I’ve a good face for caricature!”
He has been there, done it and worn the T-shirt several times over. Missing that penalty against Germany not only haunted him but made him a much tougher character.
What he has achieved with England is close to miraculous. He says we’re growing and getting better. He’s doing himself a disservice. We are one game away from a World Cup final.
It’s coming home ...