COMMENT: Hurt goes on, but at least we can dream again ...  

And so the hurt goes on. Following last night’s 2-1 semi-final loss to Croatia, it’s now 18,975 days since England reached the football World Cup final. Put another way, that’s 52 years of hurt. 

Come on, let’s be honest. When Kieran Trippier put England ahead early on last night, we were all singing it loud. Football was coming home. There might not have been a big screen in Portsmouth to show the World Cup final – a poor show, really – but at least England, against all the odds, were going to be taking part in the biggest sporting game on the planet.

But no. It wasn’t to be. After England had the better of the first 45 minutes, it was Croatia who enjoyed the second half supremacy, culminating in their equaliser. And, as England ran out of steam and out of ideas, it was Croatia who scored again in extra time.

Of course, this morning there is a sense of anti-climax around not just Portsmouth and the south coast, but the nation in general. Last night was a wonderful opportunity to progress to what would have been only a second World Cup final.

Some pundits called it our best ever chance to reach a final. They might well be right, but we have to hope they are wrong. If Gareth Southgate and his predominantly young squad have done anything in the last month, it is to bring a sense of hope and optimism back to a public who had been virtually brought to their knees by a succession of failures down many decades.

We can only hope that last night’s bitter disappointment didn’t herald the closing of one chapter; instead, there is renewed optimism, renewed confidence, that at last we have a manager and a squad who can carry on making us proud to follow the England national football team.

Not every person likes football, that much is obvious. But even those who will never fall in love with the sport have to confess it can bring a nation together like nothing else. The Royal Family cannot hold a candle to a successful England football team. 

So let us hope these last few weeks have not been in vain; that they have not delivered the latest in a long series of false dawns. Let us hope that former Cowplain schoolboy Gareth Southgate has rekindled the public’s love affair for the national team which will stretch far beyond the last month.

We are all hurting this morning, those of us who love what sport can contribute in terms of a feelgood factor. In times of political turmoil, the World Cup has helped put a smile on many faces. We should be grateful for that, because as a nation, in these troubled post-EU referendum times, we certainly need a smile or two.