Robin Sainty: Why City still always come first

England manager Gareth Southgate shakes hands with Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel after the UE

Gareth Southgate consoles Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel after the semi-final - another classy moment from the England boss - Credit: PA

Let me start this piece with a mea culpa: I didn’t come into the tournament as a Gareth Southgate fan. 

I saw him as a nice guy who came across well in interviews, but also someone whose innate conservatism was failing to make full use of some of the best creative talent that we have had for some years. How wrong could I be? 

Of course, having lived on a diet of Farkeball for the last few years I have been rather spoilt and England’s laborious build-up during the group stage was a tough watch at times, but the key was to qualify and that was achieved fairly comfortably. 

Then, of course, we were into the knockout phase, our bete noire for the last 55 years and I resigned myself to the inevitable disappointment. After all, the first tournament that I can remember watching and understanding was the 1966 World Cup, so I’ve had plenty of practice over the years! 

However, Southgate and his players produced a tactical masterclass against Germany which was followed by a routine destruction of a limited Ukraine side that was clearly running on empty to set up Wednesday’s semi-final and the rest, as they say, is history. 

England's manager Gareth Southgate, right, and England's Harry Kane celebrate after winning the Euro

England manager Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane celebrate the semi-final victory - Credit: AP

Huge credit must go to Denmark who responded superbly to the loss of their best player, Christian Eriksen in the most traumatic of circumstances, but few could argue that despite a couple of periods in the game England were by far the better side and deserving of the win. 

The way that Southgate set his side up to counter Denmark’s attacking threat and to break down their highly disciplined defensive banks should be a template for Sunday’s final where Italy are likely to use similar tactics, albeit with greater individual quality.  

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It’s great to see the national team in the final and it is a much-needed event given the divided nature of our society but for me watching England has become a different experience as I’ve got older. 

I can remember my son and I sobbing in the street together when England were knocked out of the 1998 World Cup by Argentina after a perfectly good goal from Sol Campbell that would have almost certainly won the game was ruled out, but as the years have gone by, I’ve become less emotional about the national side. 

As to why, it’s hard to explain, because my passion for Norwich City shows no sign of diminishing, and I am counting the days until I can get back to Carrow Road again like so many of my fellow fans. 

I still get tense watching England in big matches, but nothing like the gut-wrenching anxiety that I feel when I’m watching the Canaries, nor does an England defeat generate the same “end of the world” misery that I endure after a City loss. 

I suppose that in recent years I’ve found the England team, and its managers, hard to feel any connection with, but that is changing with this group and with Southgate himself, and whereas previous England squads have often seemed arrogant and self-absorbed, Southgate and his men have tapped into the national consciousness in way that few have since the days of Bobby Robson. 

So, I’m looking forward to Sunday and desperately hope that they can finish the job and carve themselves a place in English football history, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m more excited about being part of a full Carrow Road for City against Liverpool on August 14. 

Ultimately, I’m a City fan first and foremost and that will never change. Nothing England do will ever compare with the sheer visceral excitement of watching my team score, or see out a landmark win, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t care what happens on Sunday, just that, whatever the result, the effects will be less dramatic! 


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