Even if football decides not to come home this Sunday, home will never be quite the same again

·3-min read
Raheem Sterling celebrates England's win (PA Wire)
Raheem Sterling celebrates England's win (PA Wire)

Never in doubt, was it? All it took at the end of 55 years of hurt was two goes at a highly dubious penalty and England have made it to the promised land.

Feels all right, doesn’t it? To have known this feeling before, you’ve really got to be 65 years old, at least. 65 years old or Italian anyway. Or French, or Dutch, or German. Or Brazilian, or Belgian, or Spanish, or Argentine, or Croatian, or Portuguese, or Czech, or Russian, or Yugoslav, or Greek or even Danish.

If you’re any of those then you don’t need to be anything like 65 years old to know what it’s like to actually win a semi-final at a major football tournament.

For a fair chunk of the rest of the world, and certainly the rest of Europe, this feeling is so well-known it’s frankly no big deal. But if you’re English and you’re not drawing your pension then this is the thrill of the first hit and you’ll never get it again so do take a moment to breathe it all in.

This is almost - almost - as good as it gets.

It will take years, decades even, for tonight’s pictures to get shrouded in myth. The air leaving Harry Kane’s cheeks then the ball spinning delightfully back in front of him.

For the brief time being, it’s just a news story and not a legend. As of right now, none of our heroes have laughable haircuts. No one has yet been found guilty in the court of fashion, where time is a notoriously vicious prosecutor.

Where were you? Well, wherever you were, you’re there right now.

Is this all a bit much, this preposterously heroic tone, to describe a 2-1 win over Denmark in front of a two-thirds full Wembley? Course it is. But then, feel free to forgive the indulgence because it might just be, from now on, that the old, familiar voice of grandiose foreboding that is always called upon to describe the adventures of the England football team is already a thing of the past.

Because it’s very hard to look upon this current lot of England players and not feel like it’s possible to believe that this is a new kind of normal. That the world of finals and semi-finals, for a little while at least, is England’s rightful home.

Is it okay, to allow oneself to believe that the lot of the England fan in life has changed? That it’s no longer about hoping and dreaming but knowing, not especially deep down, that nothing was ever really right there for the taking?

That saccharine futility, that vivid and repeated act of self-deception, of begging oneself to believe that this time, this time, the miracle might happen - that is the act that has coloured every other summer for half a century.

But maybe not this one. Maybe not this time. And even if, come Sunday night, football has the temerity to see the final turn marked home and decide not to take the road less travelled, things still won’t be quite the same.

Maybe the heart doesn’t have to break every time anymore. Maybe a semi-final appearance doesn’t have to be pre-empted by a full four sleepless nights, because there might just be another one come along quite soon. Maybe even next November.

Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Rashford and Rice and Phillips and Bellingham and Saka and the list goes on and on and on. Whatever medals they may or may not win, to go with the honours half of them already wear for fighting hunger and racism and for raising small fortunes for the NHS during the pandemic, this lot are just different aren’t they.

They know absolutely nothing of English heroic fatalism. They think it’s all over, and who knows, maybe it is now.

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