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10:20 AM 12th July 2021
sports
Opinion

Heartbreak. Agony. Scars.

Hayden Burland a FA Level 1 Grassroots Coach looks back at last night's Euro final.

Supporting England during my 50 years on this planet has been a tough watch. This could have been the greatest night in English football history for a generation, unfortunately the outcome was all too familiar.

So how does this feel?

At the moment this feels like the hardest one to take in my timeline of torture.

My timeline is bookmarked by the years of FA Cup Finals, World Cup tournaments, and album releases by bands.

The years even have names.

What year was Wills stag do? France ‘98

Married? Portugal ‘04

How do I know that my friend Chris’ firstborn arrived on 13th May 2006? It was the day Liverpool beat West Ham in the FA Cup Final and his absence from our annual FA Cup Jolly Boys Outing was noted. We let him off, it was a decent excuse.

Football is the best gift my dad could have ever given me. By coaching grassroots football, I will hopefully pass on the bug to the next generation.

England though? Sunday night was the latest addition. We have been tuned to expect failure. Sometimes abject, sometimes heart-breaking.

My torment began in 1982 as a 10-year-old rushing back from a school play just in time to watch England versus Spain and desperation had kicked in against the Spanish. Off the bench to save us came Kevin Keegan. The little powerhouse of a man with the curly black hair rose and, got his header all wrong.

England were out. Who was it that picked the distraught Keegan up off the ground? Paul Mariner. Rest In Peace Paul.

Fast forward 4 years to Mexico ’86. 'Tango', 'Altitude.' and a place called 'Guadalajara' enter my vocabulary. In the Azteca Stadium it is another powerful little forward with a mop of curly black hair who cannot quite get his header right either. But he used his fist and another new word, or two, enter my vocabulary.

If that pain was not enough, a whole new ball game of hell announces itself. Italia ’90. Gazza’s tears and Chris Waddle sending his penalty into orbit in the semi-final shootout against West Germany.

Euro ’96. Unbridled joy in the sunshine had to end in agony. Gazza is a shoe size away from scoring the Golden Goal in extra time. Anderton contrives to hit the post from inside the six-yard box. Another semi-final exit on penalties to Germany enters the timeline. Southgate enters my vocabulary. Not superseded by the word Gareth that evening.

The timeline moves to that wonderful stag do in France I mentioned earlier, known as France ’98. You know the tournament has not gone well when it ends with an effigy of David Beckham being torched outside the Pleasant Pheasant. Yet another defeat on penalties, this time to Argentina.

Phil Neville’s gates set on fire in 2000, Seaman lobbed in Shizuoka in 2002. Gelsenkirchen (2004), Baden-Baden (2006), Wally In The Brolly (2007), Bloemfontein & vuvuzela’s (2010) enter the timeline of woe. Sadness turns to despondency for this writer and his match watching mates.

It cannot get worse, can it?

You betcha.

Here comes Roy Hodgson. Kiev 2012. England lose on penalties, again courtesy of Pirlo’s Panenka. England are poor that tournament. Only two teams had less possession and England had the fourth worst shots on target average at the tournament. We are going backwards.

It gets even darker as we fall to Iceland two years later. Possibly the most embarrassing, lowest moment since England lost to the USA in 1950.

It is worth remembering that Hodgson’s England did not win a single game in the 2014 World Cup and won only once at Euro 2016.

Hodgson would go on to receive an MBE.

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Aristotle.

The FA appoint Sam Allardyce. Thankfully Big Sam managed to sack himself within 67 days.

Enter Gareth Southgate, promoted from his Under 21’s duties he has now led the country to a World Cup semi-final, and for the first time in a lifetime a major tournament final.

Southgate had not put a foot wrong tactically during this year’s tournament, always one step ahead. When Trippier crossed to Shaw to make it 1-0 in the second minute it was immediate vindication of reverting to a 3-4-3 as one wingback crossed to the other. England were brave, aggressive, and the crowd - not all of whom had gained entry legitimately- had the Italians rattled.

As the half wore on though Italy started to settle, and England started to drop. Deeper & deeper & deeper. The second half was more the same. 3-4-3 had now been pinned back to a 5-3-2 with Rice and Phillips outnumbered in midfield. We had lost control of the game, the early goal a distant memory.

A change should have been made before the equaliser; it had been coming. The changes when they did arrive could change the game, momentum had been surrendered a long time ago. England looked ragged and could neither stem the flow nor create anything in attack. Harry Kane did not touch the ball in the opposition penalty area all night.

You know how Sunday’s story predictably ended, despite Jordan Pickford’s valiant efforts.

This can be the start of something. This is something exciting for our next generation of football fans as this young England squad give you hope. Maybe it is the hope that kills you, maybe it is what keeps you going. A squad full of good human beings, doing great deeds off the pitch as much as on it.

So how does it feel?

Draining, disappointing, sad, yet hopeful. I look forward to more days and nights I can share with friends supporting the same team, bouncing off walls and hugging strangers.

For our generation we will keep going and hope that my kids and your kids don’t have to endure 55 years of hurt. Time for Badiel, Skinner & Brodie to rewrite the tune.

Southgate nearly did.