Pinch yourself as hard as you can but this is a dream you cannot wake up from. England are in a World Cup semi-final and football is the closest it has ever been to coming home. The pessimist in you believes that the stage has been set for a glorious failure and the pain of Italia 90 to come flooding back.
The optimist, though, has watched England scoring a late winner, demolish minnows and even win a penalty shootout. They can’t help but feel the stars have aligned in the Three Lions favour. Whatever happens now, whether it be glory or disappointment, England can travel home knowing they have been a success.
They have gone further than the so-called Golden Generation ever managed to do and they have played better football than them to boot. This team does not match up to their predecessor’s talent but the ethic, teamwork, and collective desire has taken them far beyond anything that group achieved.
They have also gone beyond any of the usual pre-tournament predictions that placed on them, beyond even their own expectations. That is success. Not that it is limited to their achievements on the pitch. The entire manner in which Gareth Southgate’s England set up under his leadership is a tale of success.
He has freshened up an archaic operation, bringing in new ideas and pushing the entire international set up into the modern era. Gone are the days of England internationals scared to take penalties. Gone too are the days of the pampered, prima donna ’s protected by the PR department.
Instead, this group are treated as adults, allowed to speak their mind and deal with whatever consequences may come as a result.
Newfound love and support
This relaxed atmosphere led to Danny Rose openly discussing his battle with depression and left many journalists impressed by the setup. England are accessible again. That is success. And boy has the general public gotten on board. The apathy that has surrounded the national team has been swept away in a wave of support and newfound love and support.
The new, open nature of this squad has brought the fans back on board in a way that the previous generations and setups could never have dreamed of. The bridges that were burned in the past have been rebuilt and the cherished connection that was long lost in the disappointing 28 years since that Gascoigne-fuelled summer in Italy reforged.
This group of players are now accessible, in some cases loved, and that is the kind of success to be cherished. Even the media have gotten involved.
True that some have been up to their old tricks, doing their best to bring England down in any way imaginable. For the most part, though, the rest have been supportive and encouraging, backing their team and reaping the benefits.
Like the fans sat around them in the stands, they too have fallen in love with Southgate and his team. That is success.
Even the English media love it
It remains to be seen whether England can complete the final two steps and secure World Cup glory in Russia, but even if they fall, they will come home successful regardless. This summer Southgate and his men have rebuilt England from the ground up; ushering in a new, modern set up that fans finally feel is accessible and relatable. It’s so good, even the English media love it.
Meanwhile, their performances on the pitch have not only been excellent for all but one, meaningless game but also restored the pride that had been long lost, particularly after Euro 2016. As a result of their exploits, this summer a whole new generation has not only discovered what it means to follow England but fallen in love with them for a whole variety of reasons.
Like Italia 90, Russia 2018 will prove to be the start of a love affair with England for many a young fan. Finally, England are good again. It might not be a trophy, but for the Three Lions, that is a far greater success.