Euro 2020: A tournament that brought hope and happiness back to the country
Football didn't come home for England at Euro 2020. But happiness, hope and humility did
It was so close. Our doors were open, the welcome mat scrubbed clean and the flags were flying. But football has still not made it home. The clock continues to add to the 55 years of hurt after more penalty heartache at Wembley.
But now is not the time to be despondent. The past four weeks have meant so much more for our nation than just a fight for footballing victory. After the ravages the pandemic has wrought on our lives for 17 months it has given us all something to enjoy and celebrate, despite the victory we craved being denied by Italy.
We have charted England’s journey to the final in this paper and online through the eyes of our readers, with passions mounting as we ground our way out of the group stages, beat our arch foes in Germany, brushed aside Ukraine and then saw our way through to the final with victory over Denmark. This joyous mood has been so evident in all those we have featured as we joined celebrations in pubs and clubs around Portsmouth and beyond as England marched on to the final.
Wherever I’ve been in the last couple of weeks it has been the main topic of conversation which has brought footballing and non-footballing folk together. It has seen much-needed smiles return to people’s faces, been another pillar of strength to unite our communities and a reason for fresh hope for the future.
And - even in defeat - we should still feel a sense of pride because it was not just about what has happened on the pitch. We should still find solace in the manner we got to our first final since 1966 under the immaculate leadership of Gareth Southgate and his team of, well, normal people.
England’s current crop of footballers are not the out-of-touch superstars of the past whose lives have no semblance to our own. They are still as richly-skilled and highly-paid as those who have tried before them. But they have also shown they care. Many players - most notably Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson - have led the way on causes such as racism, food poverty, the NHS and mental health. Many helped the most needy during the height of the lockdowns.
And nobody exemplifies that down-to-earth nature than our very own Mason Mount. Everyone we have spoken to throughout this incredible tournament have had nothing but praise for our local hero - undeniably driven at an early age but remaining friendly, grounded and the ultimate role model for young people today.
So football may not have come home yet. But we can still savour the happiness, hope and humility we have felt while we watched and waited.