Monday, January 24

Win or lose on Sunday, England has given us something to be proud of | Simon Hattenstone

IIt was a night of incomparable hyperbole. Soccer may not have come home yet, but poetic license certainly has. “The next 30 minutes could change your life,” ITV game commentator Sam Matterface warned portentously as we entered extra time. “Good times have never felt so good,” he gasped as England took the lead. And then the final whistle. “Open your eyes as wide as the Wembley Arch and take note of where you are and who you are with.”

And so it happened that the England men’s team reached the final of a major soccer tournament for the first time in 55 years, courtesy of an own goal, a saved penalty (of course) followed successfully by Harry Kane, the substitution. of the substitute. Jack Grealish for looking dangerously creative and a massive defense holding out against an exhausted 10-man Denmark. Still, Matterface wasn’t done. “Call your boss, he won’t come in the morning,” he ordered. Pandemic, Covid, WFH – WTF? It was like the last 16 months just hadn’t happened, and we were back in 2020 living the dream.

And in a way, we were. In July 2021, England were playing in the semi-finals of Euro 2020. There was something Kafkaesque in everything and, of course, capitalist in style. Uefa issued a statement explaining exactly why Euro 2020 would remain Euro 2020 even though it was actually now 2021. “This choice is in line with Uefa’s commitment to making Euro 2020 sustainable and not generating additional amounts of waste “, declared the governing body of European football with a heroically serious, before admitting in the next sentence that it would be insane to let its entire lucrative brand go to waste. Cynicism knows no bounds among the soccer mafia.

And yet, despite the verbiage, crude nationalism, political exploitation (the prime minister in a number 10 Boris England jersey, natch) and grotesque product placement (thanks, Cristiano Ronaldo for sliding the ubiquitous two bottles of sponsored Coca-Cola out of sight in his televised interview and encouraging us to drink Water), there has been something fabulously uplifting about the tournament that goes far beyond the success of England. This has been a championship in which football has rediscovered its sense of fun, beauty and solidarity.

'Drink water': Ronaldo's gesture is a slight to the sponsor of the Coca-Cola Euro Cup - video
‘Drink water’: Ronaldo’s gesture is a slight to the sponsor of the Coca-Cola Euro Cup – video

It started out horribly, when Christian Eriksen went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field. But the enduring image is of his anguished comrades forming a military guard around him to protect his privacy. When Denmark’s match with Finland resumed a few hours later, Finnish fans chanted “Christian” and Danish fans responded “Eriksen”. Things appropriate for a lump in the throat, and particularly poignant after the absence of crowds for much of the pandemic. Best of all, Eriksen is on the mend.

Football itself has been a delight, generally open, adventurous and uninhibited (ironically, with the notable exception of Gareth Southgate’s pragmatic England). On a glorious day, Spain beat Croatia 5-3, followed a few hours later by Switzerland eliminating World Cup champion France on penalties after a 3-3 draw, possibly the best day in the history of a soccer tournament.

Refreshingly, the head has been given to youth. June 13 Jude Bellingham from England He became the youngest player to appear in the Euro, aged 17. Six days later Kacper Kozłowski from Poland replaced it. As for fun, at the other end of the age scale was veteran Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini joking with Spaniard Jordi Alba, hitting and wrapping him in a huge bear hug just before the penalty shoot-out to decide. what team happened. at the end. Alba may not have enjoyed it, but we did.

Even the VAR has behaved well in this tournament, playing a secondary role to the referees and nullifying decisions only when there have been unequivocal errors. In fact, the VAR have been so good that they even kept their mouths shut when there was an unequivocal error in the awarding of the penalty that led to England’s winning goal last night. As for the umpires themselves, they have controlled the games quietly, competently, and with the good looks of morning idols. German referee Felix Brych could give Warren Beatty a shot in primetime for his money.

And then there is England, now the second most successful international men’s soccer team in the country’s history, dwarfed only by the 1966 World Cup winners. It’s hard not to complain about their achievement (albeit in the much easier half of the year). draw, and playing all but one at Wembley), his drive and humility.

But there is something even more impressive about this group. After decades of watching players get rich quick and resist social injustice, here we have a generation of footballers with values. Many struggled in their childhoods, experienced firsthand what the years of conservative austerity stripped from society, and faced racism. They are now determined to use their influence and wealth to support the disadvantaged children of today. Marcus Rashford won an MBE for his campaign against food poverty and Raheem Sterling won one for his services to racial equality in sport. Jordan Henderson and Harrys Kane and Maguire raised millions for the NHS in the pandemic, Jadon Sancho helped build a cutting edge youth camp in South East London.

If England beat Italy on Sunday and win the European Championship, they will be written down in history. But in the end, that’s just football. Much more impressive is that in an era in which our politicians have proven inept, amoral and hypocritical, these young people have proven to be true role models for all of us. Regardless of whether the team wins or loses on Sunday, this is something that we, and they, should be proud of.

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