David Freezer: We know that was then but it could be again...
- Credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
How are we still not tired of singing ‘it’s coming home’ after all these years?
When Skinner, Baddiel and the Lightning Seeds came up with the song for Euro 96 it included the ‘30 years of hurt’ line and heading into Wednesday’s semi-final, that total had clocked up to 55 years.
So as Denmark started getting the ball forwards during the second half of extra-time, the nerves came flooding though for me.
The scars of previous England dreams being shattered returned as I stood nervously, struggling to stay still as that nagging fear refused to go away, but my mind started to drift to where I was for so many of those years of hurt.
Euro 96 is my first tournament pain, one of the only times football has brought me to tears, as a nine-year old, in agony as those late chances evaded Gazza and Gareth Southgate endured his nightmare moment.
That summer may have ended in tears but it sparked the hope, with glory within touching distance. For many years I wished it hadn’t.
From Beckham’s red card and Batty’s miss in 98, to Phil Neville’s needless penalty concession in 2000 and Ronaldinho’s free-kick confusing Seaman in 2002 – hope became a dangerous thing.
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By the time I was old enough to go to the pub with my dad and his mates, the introduction of alcohol made the disappointment even more painful.
The Rooney injury and penalty winner from Ricardo for Portugal at Euro 2004. The Rooney red, Ronaldo wink and dreadful penalties in the quarter-finals at the 2006 World Cup. There was just always drama, always.
Many of those moments were experienced at the social club on the former RAF Coltishall base, some were in North Walsham, including one of the worst matches I can remember.
The 0-0 draw against Algeria in the group stage at the 2010 World Cup – when Rooney angrily moaned about boos straight to a camera at the final whistle – was so drab that a fight broke out almost immediately outside the pub.
Lampard’s ridiculous disallowed goal followed against Germany but by then, having graduated from university and moved up north, I’d learned not to get my hopes up about England at a tournament. Just enjoy the beer with the people you’re with.
My memories of Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014 don’t carry such weight because that generation of players were so inhibited by the pressure and expectation.
By the time Iceland knocked us out of Euro 2016, with Kane bizarrely taking corners and an Iceland long throw bringing a goal, the only expectation was disappointment.
As all of those memories went through my mind, I barely remember much of extra-time after Kane’s very fortunate penalty on Wednesday, as the Three Lions finally got a bit of luck.
Thankfully, the England players were able to keep their concentration – and in style.
Over two minutes of unbroken possession left the Danes chasing shadows and sent a reverberation of positivity around Wembley that rippled across the country.
Not only were they going to the final but they were doing so deservedly, after showing calm, control and a clinical edge – all while coming across as a thoroughly likeable and decent group of people, led by the brave and intelligent Southgate.
Like most England fans, I was sceptical about Southgate’s appointment initially, but he won my respect and admiration at the World Cup three years ago. Long may his reign continue to prosper.
Strangely, it feels like the pressure is off now.
Lose and of course it will be disappointing but I won’t feel like the players have under-performed or let us down – if we forget about that grim goalless draw with Scotland. Quite the opposite, they’ve made us proud and represented our country fittingly on the big stage.
Italy are the favourites but we can beat them, of that I have no doubt. So give it everything, boys, this is your big chance – with much more to gain than there is to lose. Lift that trophy at Wembley and you will become immortals like the legends of 66.
We may just need some new words for our anthem though...
“Cos I still see that tackle by Shaw and when Harry Kane scored, Sterling sprinting for more, and Gareth roaring.
“Three Lions on the shirt, no more need for dreaming, no more years of hurt – we even beat the Germans!”
Come on England. I know that was then but it could be again.