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 these past 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 a 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.
After a nightmarish 16 months, 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.
Tributes pour in for Manchester City legend and former chairman Franny Lee
Tributes are being paid to Manchester City legend and former chairman Francis ‘Franny’ Lee CBE, who has passed away aged 79.
The ex-Man City, Bolton Wanderers, Derby County and England star is said to have passed away in the early hours on Monday morning, 2 October, following a long battle with cancer.
Speaking via a club statement, his wife Gill along with children Charlotte, Jonny and Nik said, “He will be sorely missed and would like to thank everyone for their kind words”.
Both Manchester teams led tributes to the British footballing legend, with avid City fan Liam Gallagher and countless others joining in paying their respects.
Franny Lee scored 148 goals in 330 appearances during eight-year City, helping the club win multiple honours during their first periods of success, including the old First Division title back in 1968.
Born in Lancashire and starting out elsewhere in Greater Manchester at Bolton Wanderers, he also went on to play for Derby following his time with the Blues, helping the Rams to their second-ever title in 1975.
The striker also had 27 caps for England between 1968–1972, scoring 10 goals and winning FA Cup, League Cup, European Cup Winners’ Cup and the Charity Shield twice at club level during that period.
Honouring their former centre-forward who went on to serve as Chairman for four years from 1994 onwards, the club statement read, “It is with the deepest sadness and heaviest of hearts we announce the passing of former Manchester City player and Chairman Francis Lee, aged 79”, adding that flags around the Etihad Campus are flying at half-mast.
His first club, Bolton, said of the former marksman, “All at Bolton Wanderers are saddened to learn of the passing of former forward, Francis Lee. The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Francis’ family, friends and loved ones at this difficult time.”
As for legacy as for his time in Blue, the club had already planned to immortalise Lee prior to his death, announcing the erection of a statue back in May 2022, the reveal date of which will no doubt be moved up following his passing.
The club has also assured that “more tributes will follow in the coming days.”
Rest in peace to a legend.
Featured Image — Manchester City/England/Bolton Wanderers (via Twitter)
Michael Bisping announces second ‘Tales From The Octagon’ talk with Manc MMA star Tom Aspinall
UFC legend Michael Bisping is bringing back his hugely popular Tales From The Octagon conversation series and he’s bringing Manc MMA star Tom Aspinall as well as Scottish fighter Paul Craig along for the latest Manchester talk.
Following the success of his first trio of live shows back in 2021 — then marketed simply as ‘An Evening with Michael Bisping’ — the Lancashire-raised fighter has invited along the two fellow Northerners to make this latest event more of a discussion surrounding MMA’s past, present and future.
Despite being born in Cyrpus, Bisping spent most of his life not too far down the road in Clitheroe and has spent a lot of time in Manchester, including winning multiple fights at the AO Arena and even meeting his wife, so there was never any question he’d be bringing the tour back to his second home.
Hosting just two shows this time, one at London’s Indigo at the O2 and the other at the Manchester Apollo, the talk promises stories spanning years inside the Octagon as well as the 44-year-old’s time commentating cage-side since retiring back in 2018.
The second Tales From The Octagon live show will also see the special guests chipping in with plenty of their own “wonderful, hilarious” and exclusive “behind-the-scenes stories” and they provide their own take on the MMA scene at large of today.
Craig, a former light heavyweight champion and Aspinall, a Salford-born heavyweight currently ranked fourth overall in the UFC, will both be joining the expert panel across the two dates this winter, bringing their own funny anecdotes, personal stories and unique takes on their careers and the sport as a whole.
Best of all, like sitting down to watch with a mate who also happens to be a vastly knowledgeable fight fan, Bisping style on stage draws both casual and new fans with the open, informal style, whilst still making sure to entertain the hardcore followers of the sport.
With Aspinall being not only a local lad but one of the UFC rising stars and next in line for a heavyweight, we’re also looking forward to hearing his thoughts on how fast-growing career. Here is Bisping speaking on just how excited he is by the 30-year-old fighter:
Speaking ahead of the two new shows, Bisping said: “The last tour in the UK was epic, I was overwhelmed by the turnout and reaction of my fans old and new. I can’t wait to come back later this year with a new show and with Tom and Paul in tow.”
Given the popularity of these three and the fact the previous tour went down a treat, it’s fair to say seats to sit in on this conversation are going to go fast.
Now branching into acting, running a successful podcast and YouTube channel, not to mention a Sunday Times and Amazon Best Seller thanks to his 2019 autobiography, Quitters Never Wins, you’re getting a real value-for-money showing.
The Tales From The Octagon 2 talk in Manchester takes place on 16 December; tickets start from just £28.50 and you can secure yours HERE.