It’s been an epic 55 years since England last reached a major tournament final. But even as the Three Lions teetered on the brink of ending that dismal record at an ear-splitting Wembley last night – passing the ball around depleted Denmark players sporting faces as red as their shirts – everyone seemed to be talking about another number: 16.
The commentators, pundits, family, friends, social media. Everyone was bringing up ’16’.
“These past 16 months” they kept saying. “We needed this after the last 16 months”.
True, the wait to see England book a spot in a final has been wearisome, stressful and even a little embarrassing. But it’s been absolutely nothing compared to what the nation has had to go through since March 2020.
The whole country – even those who can take or leave football at the best of times – needed some respite after these past 16 months. Some reason to cheer and scream and shout with joy.
On Wednesday evening, Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions gave us exactly that – coming from behind to beat Denmark 2-1 after extra-time with a winner from Harry Kane.
It was the stuff of dreams. England are in the Euro 2020 final.
The city isn’t sleeping
If you’ve ever stayed in New York City, you’ll know all too well that the first night is a restless one.
They call it the ‘city that never sleeps’ and this becomes clear from the moment you put your head against the pillow – with car horns blaring, honking and squawking way beyond sunset.
Manchester has often doubled for NYC in movie shoots over the past few years – but last night it began to mirror New York sonically, as motorists hammered their steering wheels over and over again to mark England’s win, swerving around the pedestrians clogging up the roadways.
Even with extra-time pushing the game beyond ‘bedtime’, it didn’t feel like many people in Manc were ready to go to sleep. And it was like that right across the country. Indeed, for many, Sunday is too long to wait until the next game.
There’s real belief – as the thousands of late-night renditions of Skinner & Baddiel’s classic testified – that football is definitely coming home.
Even the MPs are getting involved – with some talking about pushing for an impromptu Bank Holiday on Monday if England lift the cup.
On to Italy
Now, there’s the little matter of Italy in the final.
This isn’t just a footballing nation that historically knows how to win things. It’s a team who have beaten Turkey, Switzerland, Austria, Wales, Belgium and Spain already in this tournament. They’re frighteningly good opposition.
But no need to worry about that just now, anyway.
For the time being, simply sit back and soak it in. Revel in the fact that England are going to the Euro 2020 final. Ignore the fact that it’s actually 2021. Ignore that you worried Southgate wasn’t up to the job only two weeks ago. Ignore that you were questioning Sterling being in the starting lineups. Ignore that you have to work today.
Just bathe in the bliss for a moment.
As they all keep saying, it’s been a tough 16 months.