“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home.”
This was the soundtrack to the end of June and beginning of July in England, as the overachievement of the nation’s football team captured the imagination of the country. Onlookers from other countries may have thought the chants were delusional, arrogant and “typical England”, but in truth – and as has been previously well-documented – it was more about self-deprecating humour and a genuine sense that things were different with Gareth Southgate and his young side.
Those “thirty years of hurt” since England last won the World Cup mentioned in the song had become 52, and all those who remember Mexico ‘86, Italia ‘90, Euro ‘96 and all those “nearly” moments that ultimately ended in failure genuinely had something to cheer about as the Three Lions reached the semi-final.
But what about the young generation? Those born too recently to remember all the hurt, blame, failure and disappointment associated with the England national football team?
A 12-year-old would be too young to remember World Cups in 2006 and 2010, whilst England went out with a whimper in 2014, without having been subjected to any significantly increased hopes. If we could go back and erase those painful memories of following England in the past, then how would we have viewed this summer’s story in Russia? We can’t erase our memories, and so a dive into how the tournament was seen through a young person’s unique lens provides an interesting point of reference.
“From the start, we thought we could reach the quarters,” one such fan – Roman, born in 2005, told – Tifo Football when asked how he and his friends saw England’s hopes. “That was because we had a squad full of Premier League talent that we have seen on TV for example Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, but I think that was because we thought it would be a fluke rather than a good performance.”
However, Roman also insisted that feeling was different for those of his peers who don’t regularly watch football, as they hadn’t heard of the likes of Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier when the squad was announced. “I saw some of the friendlies before the tournament,” he continued. “Some of the younger players hadn’t featured there and England had gone back to the old faces like Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck.”
“The World Cup squad announcement was a fresh start for us. The Euros were so disappointing, and I think that was because we had the attitude of ‘we are the mighty England’ and Joe Hart said he couldn’t believe we were losing to Iceland at half-time. Some of this new squad had won the Under-21 World Cup and they didn’t have any strings attached and neither did Gareth Southgate.”
Vibrancy in this new team was clearly something that was attractive to the younger generation, as many funny clips of their off-field activities were accessible via social media platforms such as Instagram, and in this way there was a relatable quality to the World Cup stars.
“I think they were all quite upbeat characters,” Roman went on to say. “They were happy to do interviews and they enjoyed the things that we enjoy, like Fortnite. It connects the players and the England team to you and it means you care more. They like having fun, so it’s something we have in common.”
Something that had been lacking in many of the England sides in the recent past was a team made up of role models, seen in the past in the likes of Bobby Moore, Bobby Robson and David Beckham.
“They work hard,” assured Roman. “You don’t just reach the World Cup semi-final by accident. It takes determination as well as just playing well on the night. But the having fun part is a pressure reliever, as it’s important not just to focus on work and it helps you to be in the moment rather than thinking about the matches ahead.”
“I loved that the whole nation got together. Everyone was buzzing at school. Before the games we were really nervous, but the next day when we had won then everyone was singing and talking about it. All people were talking about – even ones who don’t normally like football – was the game, how we played, what we could have done differently. It was a special atmosphere.”
“I watched the matches with my family, and you could see the different opinions based on their experiences. Grandad remembers 1966, but also all the disappointments after that and that made him very cautious. Then my Mum’s generation hadn’t ever seen England win but had enjoyed the celebration and also seen the disappointment from Italia ‘90. My age hadn’t really remembered England at the World Cup so it was good to see the generations getting together with different attitudes and expectations.”
As much as the new generation of supporters saw the team with fresh eyes, the panic over penalties had clearly still seeped through to them.
“When it was time for the penalties against Colombia I didn’t think we would win as I’d heard so many stories about England losing the shoot-outs. After we won, I knew we had separated ourselves from the stigma that we always blow it and Gareth Southgate is the person to thank for that. You could see when Eric Dier took that penalty that they had been through that scenario so many times.
“I thought and hoped that we could do it, even though I knew it was difficult, and before the tournament I couldn’t have dreamed of us winning. I don’t think that things will be the same in the future as this was the first, but now the young fans will have a more positive outlook and think ‘we can do this’ as Gareth Southgate has inspired the young fans and players as optimism is a younger person’s frame of mind. I think the people that stuck with the team inspired them to be better.”
If a sunny outlook towards the England team is a byproduct of this World Cup, Gareth Southgate and his squad have achieved yet another goal alongside reaching the semi-finals. The future supporters of this side have shed the doom and gloom of the past, and that alone is reason to celebrate.