England, the whole of Portsmouth is behind you. It’s coming home! | News Comment

England players celebrate after the match
England players celebrate after the match

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So here it is, the day England football fans have waited ten thousand two hundred and thirty four days for. Believe it or not, that’s how long it’s been since our national football team last played a World Cup semi final.

Think that's a long time? Well, it's been 18,974 days since Bobby Moore received the (forever gleaming) Jules Rimet Trophy from the Queen at Wembley on July 30, 1966.

Former Havant schoolboy Gareth Southgate tonight sends England into their first World Cup semi final since July 4 1990, when Bobby Robson's England lost on penalties to West Germany in Italy.

It’s fair to say a lot has changed since then. The average price of a house in the UK was £60,000, the price of a litre of petrol was just over 40p, and a pint of lager was around £1.20.

Tim Berners-Lee was still some years away from his Eureka moment when tears started rolling down Paul Gascoigne's cheeks, and none of us who cried with him could ever have thought that, one day, we would hold the world's accumulated knowledge in the palm of our hand.

One thing, though, does not seem to have changed. It has not changed since 1966 and it has not changed since 1990. And that is the fact that he England national football team, when things go well, possess the power to bring a nation together like nothing else.

Here in Portsmouth, we know only too well the power of football as an asset to bring local communities together. Many other towns and cities know exactly the same thing. But there is nothing parochial about the England national team – when it's successful, the whole nation can feel joyous. 

Problem is, as any long-suffering supporter will tell you, there hasn’t been a lot of success down the years. The 1966 World Cup remains the only major trophy England have ever won, and just two semi finals since then – at the 1990 World Cup and at Euro 96 – is nothing much to write home about.

Supposed Golden Generations have come and gone, and provided little to cheer about.

Until now, that is. Until Gareth Southgate and his young team, of whom not a huge amount was expected this time a month ago, started winning. And, to our delight, they have kept on winning.

Tonight, it is not just Portsmouth and the surrounding areas that will be on the edge of our collective seats as we sit glued to our screens. A nation waits, pregnant with expectation. We have waited 28 years for a night like this, and 52 years for something even more memorable.

It’s been too long. Come on, Gareth and co, we’re all behind you as you bid to bring football home ...