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Sunday, 4 November 2018

A Summer of Unity

2018, a World Cup year, a collective groan spread across the nation as Gareth Southgate announced his 23 man squad for the world's finest festival of football. It seems that every time an England team enter a major tournament there is more negativity than optimism. This is largely down to the fact that since 1996 England have failed to leave their mark in every competition since and usually roll over to lesser opposition without even the faintest of whimpers. Take 2016 Euro's defeat to Iceland for example, the less said about that the better... With the squad announced there was an air of confusion in the pubs, clubs and bookies across the country. Everyone who reckons they played Northern League or had trials at QPR once, chatted shite about how we needed 'experience' and how it was 'vital' to success.

The thing is, the vast majority of this squad had never played at this level before, this level being the elite of world football. This was the one thing that made me a very excited young man heading into this tournament. The optimism I secretly felt reminded me of what my Dad had told me about the heady days of Italia 90 and Euro 96. Little did we know that the younger lads of this generation were about to have their own little Italia 90 over the coming month. Now it's 2018 and we didn't have a catchy World Cup tune to take us into the competition; however, 'World In Motion' and 'Three Lions' and even 'Vinderloo' could be heard coming from every speaker, bedroom, boozer and car in earshot. The whole country just seemed proper up for this, like there was a real sense of community spreading across a country that had been battered by politics for the last year and a half...

The time had come and Gareth's boys headed off to sunny Russia a place where hooligans were told they weren't welcome and a place where media presence was usually met with extreme rules and regulations. As Putin looked on, the three lions were about to enter the lions den... Group game one arrived and England faced Tunisia and we all rolled our eyes in anticipation to what was surely going to be the return of 'Typical England'... Little did we know that big Harry Kane was going to pop up with a last minute winning header off his massive forehead and pints all over the country would be flung in every direction as strangers embraced, and people lost their heads everywhere and danced long into the school night. Next up Panama a country that many knew little about and I had a secret suspicion they were going to do us 1-0 due to the confidence that seemed to be growing around the boys in white as the days passed following our glorious 90th minute winner.

The day arrived and what a glorious one it was, a sunny Sunday and loads of bald geezers had their tops offs and the family barbecues were well underway, cruisers were rammed and drinking in the streets had started hours before kick off. It was a summer where Corona bottle tops could have quite easily become currency, god only knows what would of happened if we had gone and won the thing... Panama were the opposition and the growing optimism surrounding Gareth's three lions was tilting everyones coupon decisions towards an England win. The hunches of everyone in England were right as the boys soared to a rousing 6-1 victory which featured a Harry Kane hat trick. Pubs around the country went nuts and the walls, ceilings and people of this fine nation got soaked by the amber nectar. Safe to say it was a super Sunday. The final group game was upon us and we faced the 'Golden Generation' of Belgium a term that we were all so familiar with... England were through and this seemed like a friendly to most as not many people were that fussed and wanted the knockouts to begin.

First knockout game and we faced Colombia a country famous for many things including the some ace footballers over the years. 1-1 and our heads had well and truly gone, England had to face extra time and pens and if history taught us anything our bottle would well and truly desert us and the plane home would be the next thing the boys would see. Nah not this time, big Eric Dier pops up and converts the winning penna and the whole country and even the ex pats abroad were in absolute ecstasy, scenes all over the nation started to emerge and it was safe to say there was a few sickies pulled and many a sore head  the following morning... Next up Sweden in the quarters, big, big game. I've failed to mention throughout all of this going on there was one man behind it all, the mastermind of England's superb performances both on and off the field. That man was Gareth Southgate and what a well spoken, well mannered, fine example of a fella he was. A clear

step forward by the FA in allowing him to be gaffer. The last few appointments hadn't inspired much really had they? Particularly 'Fat Sam' the fella responsible for saving a few average teams from prem relegation along with his transfer sting which saw him leave the England Manager's job quicker than you can say 'Greggs'...

Back to Sweden then and we eased past them like a Volvo on cruise control, lavvvv it! A comfortable 0-2 victory with the goals coming from big 'Slabhead' himself Harry Maguire and Dele Alli, this was another game which sent the country into an afternoon of cans upon cans and street singing until the early hours of Sunday morning. Life was good, England were in a World Cup Semi Final, yeah that's right a World Cup Semi Final. The next game, the semi, would mark the end of this truly glorious run of form... England faced Croatia a team with zip, zest and an ability to break down our usually well drilled defensive line. I don't really want to shed too much light on this game as the games before it were what brought us all together... This England side led by the charismatic, charming Gareth Southgate were a side that not only did wonders for football, but for communities, families, friendships and general wellbeing across this great nation of ours. This England side played for a country divided by the sham that is 'Brexit', played for a country under the worst rule since the days of the 'Iron Maiden' and still with great ease managed to unite more people than any political party ever could. Football was coined 'The People's Game' and I'd lost faith in that title for years following my club, paying extortionate prices for tickets here, there and everywhere but this England team somehow put the faith back into that title for me. Myself and the other football heads of this country will be eternally grateful for that. A summer of joy, a summer of love, a summer of passion, a summer of unity...


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In loving memory of Denise Pottinger