For many people, the first word that comes to mind regarding the English national football team at major tournaments is “failure.”
And not even heroic failure at that, but rather bleak, monotonous, inevitable failure. It’s just what they do.
Or at least it was from 1990 until 2018, when England were reborn under curtains-enthusiast Gareth Southgate and romped to a World Cup semi-final amid scenes of joyful abandon not witnessed in Blighty since David Cameron resigned.
“Three Lions” by Baddiel & Skinner became the sound of the summer, again, and understandably so. For a brief period, football looked as if it may indeed be coming home, right up until the moment England met a decent team in the semis and suffered their second of three losses in the tournament.
But that’s beside the point. Russia 2018 was all about a nation rediscovering its love for its football team rather than the actual specifics of how the team played and the results they earned.
Beer was drunk and beer was flung. Croydon Box Park made itself the place to be for those who preferred their alcohol all over their clothes instead of in their bellies.
Football took a backseat and pride took the wheel.
It was pretty glorious stuff, a sun-soaked renaissance that captured hearts and minds, even among those within England for whom the national team had always been something of an embarrassment.
But England weren’t finished there. A few months after Russia, they beat Spain and Croatia and qualified for the final tournament of the fledgling UEFA Nations League. Arguably, the team’s performances were a step up on the form they showed at the World Cup.
So it is that after decades of humiliation, England go into 2019 with a real sense of belief in the team.
It’s entirely believable that they’re now one of the best sides in Europe – it would probably be a surprise if they didn’t win the Nations League, and subsequently have a great run at the Euros in 2020.
There hasn’t been a better time in the last 30 years to support England. Over the next year or so, the team might even back up their form with a trophy or two.
Imagine the scenes in Croydon if that happens.