The easiest thing to do is feel down about the state of our nation and our football team today. On the pitch, we had glory cruelly snatched from our grasp through the agony of a penalty shootout.
Off the pitch, the scenes of disorder at Wembley stadium as ticketless yobs forced their way into the stands followed by the appalling racist abuse directed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka are painful reminders of the ugly side of our game.
For those of us with a distaste for hypocrisy seeing social media posts from senior government officials such as the home secretary condemning racism aimed at the players just weeks after inviting fans to boo the very same players for peacefully protesting against racism, was particularly unpalatable. This is England – a land of extremes.
We went from being 25 minutes away from throwing the biggest national party in more than half a century – to nursing the worst collective Monday morning hangover of all time.
However, reflecting on the last month, I feel hopeful and optimistic and I’ll tell you why. When you consider everything that has been hurled at this group of players – from political barbs and jeering knuckle-draggers claiming to be England fans, to Giorgio Chiellini’s magnificently cynical defending – how can you not be proud of them taking us to a first major final in 55 years?
England’s erudite manager Gareth Southgate put his faith in these young players right until that very last fateful kick from the 19-year-old Saka. I’m convinced that this group of players will only get better and learn from the experience of this tournament. Bring on the World Cup in 2022.
Moreover, for me and countless other English-born ethnic minority fans, this tournament represents a watershed moment. While we have followed the fortunes of the England team since we can remember, many of us have refrained from going “all in on England” like we have for the clubs we support.
You only have to look at some of the scenes on Sunday featuring some of the less savoury elements of the England fan base to see why this might not be a tribe that an Asian or Black football fan can easily connect with.
So even though we cheered on Lineker, Barnes, Gazza, Beckham and Rooney, everything that came with being an England fan felt wrong. Most of all the flag. We just couldn’t wave that flag.
When I was growing up in south London in the 1980s, the St. George’s Flag was not so much a symbol of national identity but a warning sign. It was draped out of houses in neighbourhoods that needed to be avoided unless you wanted trouble. It was appropriated by far-right groups such as the British Movement and later the English Defence League.
Yet there I was at Wembley on Wednesday, holding aloft the flag and cheering on the Three Lions.
Something changed this summer. When I look at this team I see a group of players who not only represent the power of diversity – but want to use their platform to make a difference. It’s why Marcus Rashford campaigned for free school meals, leading to changes in government policy.
It’s also why Jordan Henderson has become a campaigner for NHS Charities Together and Raheem Sterling has used his voice to call for better representation of Black people at the top of the game.
And why, crucially, these young men decided collectively to take a knee before each game to highlight racial inequality – an act that has received the unequivocal support of the FA and of Southgate when it would have been so easy to just cave under the pressure.
Their critics call them “woke babies”, “virtue-signalling millionaires” and peddlers of “gesture politics”. Yet all of this has plugged them into England’s minority communities and a generation of tolerant, multicultural football fans like never before.
We have seen in the last 24 hours there is much work to be done, but I have no doubt we are heading there.
I might not be certain of what every single England fan stands for, but this England team has been loud and clear about what their values are – and that is more than enough for me to hold the St. George’s flag aloft for the first time in my life and claim it as my own.
Amar Singh is Senior Brand Manager for Budweiser and Bud Light