Just Words... '52 years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming'

13 July, 2018 | Posted By: Charlie Charalambous

For a fleeting moment, we believed the Three Lions would roar unexpectedly to the final of the World Cup, extinguishing 52 years of hurt for every England fan. Although it didn’t come home tucked inside Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat, the youngest landing party ever sent out to regain the FIFA World Cup reached the semi-final stage. And like 1990, it ended in tears, but the fans could be proud of England again after the Euro2016 humiliation against Iceland and being knocked out after only two group games at Brazil2014.

For the first time in a generation, there were low expectations of this England team leading up to a World Cup – the best we could hope for was that they went out fighting in the knockout stage against a big hitter.

People will argue that England didn’t actually beat anyone good and when they came up against a top team they were outclassed by Croatia. In the past, it hasn’t taken much for England to make a mess of things against lesser opposition. And at this wonderful World Cup of shock and awe, smaller nations have upset the big fish – South Korea said goodbye to World Champs Germany, and Russia – the lowest ranked country in the tournament – knocked out Spain.

At this World Cup England have morphed into a proper football team rather than a squad of individuals burdened by the pressure of expectation and gut-wrenching defeat. A group of young unlikely lads have mucked in together to show resilience and a determination to win that befits the wearing of an England shirt. Their manner and determination on and off the pitch has resonated with England fans everywhere, the players were suddenly one of us, supporters who would be cheering from the stands if they weren’t better at football than most of us. Huge credit must be given to England manager Gareth Southgate whose humility, attention to detail and openness with the media set the right tone for a nation grown cynical from past failures.

Many were underwhelmed by Gareth’s appointment as England manager after his disgraced predecessor Sam Allardyce was unceremoniously sacked after one game in charge. He was deemed a ‘Yes Man’ who would not embarrass the FA. The doubters were proved wrong, Gareth is a man of steely resolve with a clear vision of how England should play football. Above all else, he is a thoroughly decent bloke who always gives credit to the team ethic. Everyone would take Gareth Southgate to meet their parents and you know you could trust him to take out the recycling. Which is why he has entered the Twittersphere with the #GarethSouthgateWould movement and become a reluctant fashion icon in his lucky banker’s blue suit and matching waistcoat.

Dare I say, that due to Gareth and his young lions, England has regained respect as a footballing nation while the World Cup journey united a country pre-occupied with divisive Brexit politics. We sang “it’s coming home” and desperately wanted it to be true.

Sadly, the World Cup will most probably end up in Paris this weekend after England have played for third place against Belgium. A game neither sided wanted to play as they dreamed of a final. Belgium’s golden generation fell short once again, but England will need to build on their experience in Russia to make sure it comes home from Qatar in 2022. Once the fog has cleared from another painful England exit, the finals in Russia will be remembered as one of the best in the history of the competition. For the consistent level of high drama in every game and the quality of the football on show.  There have been goals, upsets, passion, goal-line technology and VAR.

Just like they doubted Gareth Southgate, critics said Russia couldn’t pull it off, and like the England manager, Russia has surpassed all expectations. The world will be a lonelier place after Sunday’s showpiece final in Moscow. Nevertheless, we got the love back for England and #GarethSouthgateWould definitely remain in the job to ensure football eventually comes home to its parents after running off to see the world.

One more time before the curtain comes down: “Three Lions on the shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming…”