At the 1990 World Cup, England reached the pinnacle of their success on the world stage, a first semi-final since the glory of 1966. Five years later a Mancunian group of twenty-somethings, who called themselves Oasis, released their magnum opus – What’s the Story (Morning Glory), and cemented their place as global superstars. What followed on from these seemingly unconnected events showed an eerie symmetry; both could never replicate their early success and relive their past glories.
Over the years they were both dogged by rumours of hostile cliques, often attacked by the press and changed their line-ups to try to recapture the hearts and minds of the public; alienating all those who didn’t blindly support them. The death knell for Oasis rang when they broke up in 2009, but England had to wait until 2016 for their misery to end, the ignominy of their defeat to Iceland marking a new low for the team and their supporters. However, just two years later from that calamity, Gareth Southgate smashed the mirror between them and has done what the Gallagher brothers never could – bring the hope and belief of those heady days into the 21st century.
Not All Doom and Gloom
After their 2-1 loss to Croatia and the subsequent 2-0 loss to Belgium, England haven’t managed to improve on their showing at Italia ’90, but in my view that’s okay. Winning the World Cup is, of course, an enormous badge of honour to wear as a professional footballer, however, this young England team can leave Russia with their heads held high and appreciate this tournament for what it was – a foundation on which to build success in the future.
After the loss to Iceland in Euro 2016, the atmosphere in the Stade de Nice could only be described as toxic. The bitter disappointment of the England fans was palpable, and the fiasco was only compounded when the manager, Roy Hodgson, resigned on the spot. It was arguably the worst night in the football history of a once great nation that has brought so much to the sport over the years. By total contrast, the stadium after the Croatia defeat was that of understandable disappointment but yet so full of pride. This was exemplified by the fans staying for an hour after the match to sing songs about Gareth Southgate’s team and belt out Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, a fitting tribute to a campaign that captured the hearts of the nation.
I wasn’t born until long after England’s success in 1990, so I have to rely on the stories of those who were there to truly understand what it was like. All these tales start as history but over time metamorphose into myth and legend. In the days after England’s 2018 exit, the media’s post-mortem will begin and they’ll find that maybe England got lucky with the draw and rode their luck in the Colombia game. This is all true in the moment but it’ll all be forgotten when the fog of time rolls in and the story of England’s 2018 World Cup success is fully appreciated.
Inspiring A New Generation
Being knocked out of World Cup is painful, it’s horrible to watch your team struggling to find an equaliser whilst the clock ticks slowly towards the inevitable. No matter how much football you’ve watched, your stomach always drops when the final whistle blows, and you realise that your worst fears have been confirmed. Yet, as I watched England’s players sink to their knees when the result was confirmed, I felt a strange mix of pride and optimism that was at odds to my usual thoughts about the national team. Finally, England seem to be in a cycle of evolution and this isn’t the end for once; it’s only the beginning.
England under-17’s and under-20’s are current world champions, which is indicative of the kind of plans that the FA and Gareth Southgate have for the future. His dedication to this aim is shown by the fact he brought the most inexperienced squad of the 32 teams to the 2018 World Cup. For once, a young person can look at the team he has chosen and believe that they have a chance of making it. Gone are the days of selecting players based on reputation above merit and, for that, Southgate deserves immense credit. Harry Maguire was one of England’s stand out players, but since he plays for Leicester, a traditionally unfashionable club, he would have struggled to start ahead of “big six” players under the old regime.
A Bright Future
The inclusivity and togetherness that Gareth Southgate has instilled in the squad will hopefully stay long after his tenure ends. As will the relationships he has built up with the press.
The phrase “It’s Coming Home” has rung out across the nation over the last four weeks and now the people who’ve been eagerly awaiting to curtail that talk can do so. My reply to that would be that football doesn’t need to come home, it’s always been here. In the back of our minds, hibernating, waiting until it was finally stirred by the belief that England might just do something spectacular again. Now that it has finally awoken and become part of the English psyche once again, as long as the hope remains then it may just Live Forever.