It’s happened, it’s actually bloody happened! I’ve waited so long to experience this feeling as an England fan and it’s dreamy. My voice has gone, my head hurts, my feet ache – still – but my heart is completely full.
I was lucky enough to be at Wembley to see us get over the line and the delirium in the stands made all the previous years of hurt and disappointment worth it. I was lifted off the ground like Baby in Dirty Dancing and I still feel like I’m flying, so good, so good, so good!
Everyone remembers the one tournament that sucked them in, I can see it happening now with my step-daughter, who usually has no interest in football but is now utterly absorbed after the last few joyous weeks.
For me, it was Italia 90. I grew up around the corner from Paul Gascoigne in Dunston so I remember the heartbreak and tears after seeing Gazza, our local hero, crying his heart out and Sir Bobby Robson slumped in the dugout. But I also vividly remember the shared outpouring of joy and feelings of immense pride. And those pesky Germans, who could forget them!
I was 17 when Euro 96 came around with all its glory and agony. Gascoigne’s genius, Alan Shearer’s goals, three lions on their shirts and Gareth Southgate’s pen. I’ve watched the footage of Gazza’s miss so many times since – and every time I still think this time he’s going to get his toe on it! But as we grew up knowing, it only ever goes one way… and those Germans struck again.
Then came this bonkers summer when I watched us dispatch Germany in a knockout game. I have never celebrated a goal as much as I did when Raheem "the dream" Sterling gave us the lead. I didn’t realise how much the pent up hurt of those previous tournaments had been bottled up inside me until the dam burst and it all came flooding out. I wasn’t the only one, my sleepy village went wild, we partied like it was 1999. Locals who normally sit in the corner of the pub with a quiet pint were raving on tabletops. It was euphoric and I loved every second.
I don’t know anything else that can draw out that sort of jubilant emotion. Football has the power to bring people together, to unite them and to wrap its arms around them in one glorious, giant group hug. After the difficult, lonely year we have all had, to be able to share those outpourings of joy with other human beings is the tonic we all needed. And we needed to feel it together.
I’m so grateful to Southgate for giving us that. With the country currently divided on so many issues, it’s utterly uplifting to be led by such a genuinely nice person. An English gentleman who is likeable, respected and wise. The England manager has felt the heartache of past failures more acutely than any of us – but the way he has responded and the way he conducts himself makes you want to be a better person. He is deserving of good things.
It feels like something special is happening and – dare I say it – that something even more special is going to happen on Sunday.
I really don’t know what I’m going to do with myself all day, I’ll wake up nervous, plan my red and white outfit and then watch the clock. Tick tock, tick tock, it’s actually on its way home. What will we sing when it finally gets here?!
Lynsey Hipgrave is a football presenter for BT Sport