Published on 08 July 2021
After several agonising near-misses, England have made it to their first major tournament final since the World Cup win of 1966.
Fifty-five years of frustration, disappointment and occasional humiliation might be about to end triumphantly.
In reaching the final, the team have done more than many seasoned England fans dared hope. It might be impossible for some not to expect the worst on Sunday, and some will prepare for it anyway.
However, the positive effects of getting to a final in the country’s premier football theatre are likely to be considerable.
“Any football nation in any circumstances is buoyed and excited by reaching a major final. But this is a final in unusually onerous circumstances.
“There has been approximately 18 months of a global pandemic, and England has been intermittently in lockdown for approximately 16 months. Disruption and frustration have been routine for almost everyone, with grief and sorrow befalling many.
“The country - like many other countries - has been in turmoil. The counterpoint of a European Championship final for the men’s football team is stark.
“Therefore, the buoyancy and excitement of playing at Wembley on Sunday is likely to be heightened. It might be that some English people, and other inhabitants of England, who are usually indifferent to or dislike football will share in the spirit and hope for victory.
“Naturally, what comes after the final will substantially turn upon the match’s outcome. With ‘Freedom Day’ poised for eight days later, success at Wembley could fuel a national élan for the remainder of summer and beyond.
“It would be naïve not to expect the government to piggy-back on it too, perhaps by framing the triumph as a parable of what is possible for the nation as it tries to emerge from the Covid nightmare.
“Yoking it to the NHS pandemic labours, with each claimed as expressions of an indomitable national spirit, cannot be ruled out. It might also be framed by government and others as a celebration of a multiracial and multi-ethnic nation (like France’s World Cup win of 1998), especially when contrasted with the team and nation of 1966.
“Since the vanquished will be Italy, trumped by creative English talents such as Sterling, Rashford, Mount, Sancho and Grealish, victory could also weaken the self-loathing and arguably catastrophic stereotype of uncouth northern Europeans and sophisticated southern counterparts.
“Success will court hazards, too. Healthy national celebration has a flip side of hubris, excess, aggression and racism (towards other nations). These might be more likely against the backdrop of the last 18 months. And a major difference from 1966 is social media, a conduit of demotic expression.
“Social media, again, is liable to be a medium of unsavoury conduct if England lose. Abuse of England players, including racist abuse of BAME players, would not be a surprise. Nor would racist abuse of Italians. Such behaviour, again, could be worsened by the backdrop of the last 18 months.
“Some, in both social and mainstream media, might be unable to resist framing defeat as ritual confirmation of the intractable superiority of the smooth Latins over the workhorse Brits. If Italy win convincingly, then introspection about the English game might get another laundering, especially in the broadsheets, before things settle into the comparative normality of the new league season, when July’s Wembley angst will be largely forgotten and remembered only with wry humour.”