TO A curious and strangely moving sight presented itself outside Wembley Stadium in the early hours of Thursday morning. England’s semi-final against Denmark had ended for more than two hours; the players had completed their press duties; most of the crowd had already dispersed toward the subway station and parking lots.
And yet, despite all this, many had stayed. Maybe several hundred at least, some drinking, some smoking, some chatting with friends. Many, however, simply stared: they gazed reverently at the illuminated arch as paralyzed by its beauty, unable to look away, still somehow magnetized by this stage and the spectacle it had just contained, as if possessed by a stillness. religion. As if the moment they left, this would all end.
At first glance, this seems a bit silly. In fact, apply just a modicum of perspective and it all starts to look a bit silly: the flying pints, the painted faces, the sudden resurrection of Atomic Kitten as a cultural force, the endless viral videos of grown men and women darting through beer halls at the same time. Outdoors in celebration of Denmark’s own goal, people getting on buses and streetlights, people dropping things, people shouting things.
And yet, on some level, all this human emotion and this strange ritual must mean something. How could I not? Beating Italy in the final on Sunday, ending the drought, lifting a huge trophy, breaking the curse – this must also mean something, but what? Is the summer of Euro 2020/1 destined simply to be a brief outbreak of English hysteria, a great national performance, a fleeting fervor that dissipates as quickly as it started? Will you lose anything lasting from this moment beyond a montage, some terribly rushed books, and a small blow to the hospitality industry? Can winning a major tournament really change a country?
To answer some of these questions, it is worth traveling 55 years back to the Wembley dressing room on July 30, 1966. The medals have been handed out, the World Cup has been lifted, and as England’s players change , the mood is strangely blank. Bobby Charlton turns to his brother, Jack. “That’s it,” he says. “What can you win after that?”
Right-back George Cohen, meanwhile, mutters under his breath: “It’s ridiculous. I do not feel anything. Not me. “(This, and much of what follows, is based on Roger Hutchinson’s excellent book ’66: The Inside Story of England’s 1966 World Cup Triumph).
Players, staff and a battalion of FA blazers head to the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington for the post-game banquet, an event to which the players’ wives and girlfriends are not invited. Prime Minister Harold Wilson, whose request to appear in the final BBC coverage as a halftime interviewee was rejected, wastes no time joining the victorious team and joining them on the balcony as they pose for photographs. And that, for all intents and purposes, is that. After a night of revelry, the players retire from their hotel in Hendon and the 1966 World Cup goes down in history.
Certainly 1966 would become a cultural touchstone in the years to come, but it’s harder to argue that it really changed England. Any minor financial impact stemmed from both hosting the tournament and winning it. A FA report later that year stated that “many of our export industries will gain positive momentum from this success,” without providing evidence. And if there was any lasting social impact, it was arguably felt most intensely north of the border, where Scotland, long offended by the English establishment’s tendency to combine “England” and “Great Britain” as if they were interchangeable terms , I was in turmoil. of his own nascent nationalist movement.
Other countries offer more compelling examples. West Germany’s victory at the 1954 World Cup was described by Joachim Fest as the “true birth of the country” – the moment when Germany shook off the miserable sackcloth of the postwar years and “regained its self-esteem”, as Franz Beckenbauer said.
Brazil’s triumph in 1970 was gleefully hijacked by the country’s military dictatorship in its ongoing culture war against left-wing opposition. More recently, Portugal’s victory at Euro 2016 was turned by the socialist government of Antonio Costa into a broader narrative of national rejuvenation after a decade of debt and austerity crises.
But even here, soccer success seems to reflect and crystallize a moment rather than shape it; it states trends and patterns that already exist at some level. This, perhaps, is why the most powerful function of winning an international tournament, or even doing it well, as the example of the Republic of Ireland in 1990 shows, is in the service of mythology, the way in which it feeds on a simple and digestible national. story. “The imagined community of millions seems more real in the form of 11 named individuals,” historian Eric Hobsbawm once wrote. “The individual, even the one who just claps, becomes a symbol of the nation itself.”
So it’s worth asking what an England win on Sunday would really change. In a tangible way, very little. Politicians on the right and left will argue about its true importance; Boris Johnson, like all good populists, will do his best to associate himself with a triumph that will never be his to own, and will likely be rewarded with a 15-point lead in the polls.
For the rest of us, Euro 2020 will pass simply as a treasure chest of golden memories – highly personal, chemically enhanced, fade and fade a bit around the edges, but no less powerful or meaningful for that.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism