Euro 2020(1): The Final – A Reflex Reaction
I’m a strangely paradoxical England supporter. I take little succour from flags, and I prefer to pledge my allegiance to people close to me. But England are my national team. I don’t think I’ve got anybody else. I’m stuck with them and they’re stuck with me, and I am fortunate in that I’ve never felt the pain of defeat too acutely, which definitely helps. So there’s an element of tonight that feels raw, a very familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. But at the same time, years of conditioning kicked in. 1990. 1996. 1998. 2004. 2012. Here we go again, then.
But hold up, there. To take the broadest possible perspective, England took the best team in the tournament to a penalty shootout in the final. They even led that penalty shootout, at one point. They came incredibly close, almost as close as you can get, and that’s within the confines of a means of separating two teams who can’t be separated any other way. There is no shame to be had in losing for a team that has managed its way through the tournament in the way the England team did.
We all know the positive stuff about this England squad. And we can all help these young players, who volunteered themselves for penalties tonight. Don’t amplify racists, idiots and blowhards. If someone is acting like a dick, call them out on their behaviour. Remember how unusual it has felt to have a national team of which we can truly be proud, and treat them no differently next season because of anything that may or may not happened tonight. I get that football is a game that provokes incredible emotions – I’ll come back to that – but it doesn’t have to be accompanied by torrents of abuse.
So yeah, about those incredible emotions, then. The fact that they’re incredible doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re positive, and it was genuinely shocking to see the extent of the disorder in and around both Wembley and Central London before and during the game. I can’t imagine it’s any better as I write this, and the fact that I even have to contemplate telling people to ‘stay safe’ after a football match is something that turns my stomach.
I passed through Central London at about eleven o’clock, catching a train to the south coast. There were already a couple of hundred LADS LADS LADS outside Victoria Station, and although the atmosphere was good humoured, getting on my train I walked past a table with a crate of 24 cans of strong lager on it, all of them empty. It wasn’t difficult to see what direction it was heading, and considering there were still nine hours until kick-off, it felt like a relief to be heading against the traffic.
It should also be necessary, however, to point out that hundreds of thousands of us attend matches throughout the season without anything like this happening. This is society’s problem, not football’s, but it’s very easy to tangentially blame “football” as though it – and by extension we – exists in a vaccuum, rather than as part of a wider world. There probably are questions to be asked about security and policing – I’m intending to come back to both this and the match itself in greater detail over the next couple of days. The kick-off timing and coming so close to the apparent ending of Covid-19 restrictions probably didn’t help, but they are not the problem.
But that isn’t on the team. And it’s fine to feel bad for them, this evening. Make no mistake about it, Italy were the best team in this tournament, but England took them as far as anybody. In the end, though, they hit a brick wall. The experience won the battle against the younger attacking players, and Italy controlled the pace and flow of the game when it needed to be controlled. England scored early but Italy didn’t panic, and even after England started the second half relatively well, it wasn’t long before the equalising goal was coming, and then it came.
England played reasonably well in extra-time, but the penalty shootout was a bridge too far. There are questions to be asked about the choice of penalty takers. Everybody will have an opinion – from an England perspective, mine is that Jordan Pickford’s penalty shootout performance this evening was superb; he couldn’t have done anything more to keep England in the competition, and that there are several people who should be question why Bukayo Saka was taking their last one. Italy picked themselves up and dusted themselves down from an early miss, just as they did against Spain.
Italy have been a ball of perpetual emotion throughout this tournament. They’ve been fantastic to watch, and it’s difficult to argue that they don’t deserve to be the champions of Europe, albeit a year late. They’re a team with bags of character, an enjoyable style and an apparently psychic hold over opponents. Roberto Mancini has performed a remarkable job in getting Italy to where they are now after the abject failure of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. Chiellini is probably the player of the tournament. The best team won.
So yeah, it’s raw. Just a bit. But this is the best England team of my lifetime, and they are good, decent guys. Proof of what can happen in a truly meritocratic environment. They did as much as they could. Those outside the ground and elsewhere, well, they’ve fucked the reputation of this country, and they’ve quite possibly fucked any bid for the 2030 World Cup (which should, of course, go to Argentina & Uruguay – the current proposed bid also includes Chile & Paraguay), and with everything having been caught on CCTV, it seems likely that dozens of arrests will follow. The team deserved better than that, at least. They are the future of this country. The question is; how do we leave the past behind, healthily?