At a distance of seven days, it seems an appropriate juncture upon which to comment on the final of the Euros and the crushing disappointment in which the day ended.
Not the defeat to Italy on penalties; that was unfortunate but hardly unprecedented. No, it was the conduct of those elements of our fellow countrymen who disgraced themselves before a watching continent.
At the very time when the country had the opportunity to present itself as a cheerful, optimistic and welcoming people, a la the 2012 Olympics, instead we witnessed the English at their most narrow-minded, vile and thuggish.
The scenes in and around Wembley in the hours leading up to the match were as predictable as they were appalling.
Who would have thought that allowing thousands of ticketless “fans” to gather throughout the day, consume vast quantities of alcohol (and other substances) before a match kicking off at eight pm would be a recipe for the sort of loutish behaviour that came to pass?
Well, everyone, that’s who! Everyone that is except the Metropolitan Police, the FA, Uefa and Wembley Stadium officials.
Decades of dealing with unruly mobs at high tension, high profile football matches should have taught those in charge that large crowds + alcohol + late kick offs = trouble.
What sporting governing body in their right mind would even consider staging a showpiece tournament in England after witnessing those scenes from a country whose people cannot be trusted to behave themselves?
Then there was the racist abuse aimed at Rashford, Sancho and Saka after their missed penalties. It is hard for me to even get my head around what would motivate someone to take to social media and vent their frustration and anger in such racially abusive terms.
One may criticise their penalty technique (if I never see that ridiculous stop/start run up again it will be too soon) but not the courage they showed in stepping up and certainly not for the colour of their skin. Racism denies logic, reason, compassion and humanity itself. It is the refuge of the bigoted, the uneducated and the inadequate.
As for the game itself, Burnley fans like myself are well used to seeing Keiran Trippier’s perfectly delivered crosses and one such cross found Luke Shaw, buffed up and shaven-headed like a recently released convict, who struck a sweet volley past Donnarumma in the Italian goal to give England an early lead.
England dominated play for most of the remainder of the first half, but it was at this point that Gareth Southgate’s hitherto impeccable judgement deserted him. For instead of pushing hard for the second goal which would have killed Italy off, his team retreated to the edge of their own penalty area for the last two thirds of normal time in an effort to preserve their one-nil lead.
It was never going to work, but might have done had Jordan Pickford’s hand turned a header around the post instead of against it, allowing Bonucchi to equalise with a tap-in.
Pickford deserved better luck both with the Italian goal and in the shoot-out in which he made two saves. He would be forgiven for thinking that that should have been enough to secure victory.
Southgate has an array of vibrant attacking talent at his disposal but seemed reluctant to deploy them; Grealish was introduced too late and Rashford and Sancho were brought on purely to take a penalty. These too were crucial errors of planning and judgement.
He would do well to take a hint from England’s World Cup winning cricket team. Eoin Morgan and Trevor Baylis encouraged their team to attack at every opportunity, with no recriminations if and when it didn’t come off. Surely it is time for England’s footballers to adopt the same policy of fearless enterprise.
In addition, whilst England hoped to win; Italy expected to. Success in major tournaments is inbred into the culture of Italian football, it is hard-wired into the DNA of each of their players. This was embodied in one incident during the game which, when I saw it, caused my spirit and belief to drain away.
In an attempt to break clear down the right wing, Saka was grabbed by the collar and hauled to the ground by Cheillini. It was a challenge which, had it occurred on the street, would have brought a charge for assault, but as it happened on a football pitch was merely punished with a yellow card.
It struck me that perhaps England’s players, rightly lauded for their decency, need to develop a vicious streak if they are to win a championship.
So, football didn’t “come home” after all. Instead the trophy went to the better team over the whole game and certainly the better team in the penalty shoot-out. Taking into account all that transpired on the day, English football received no more than it deserved.
Dave Thornley gets his mojo on and it's hard to disagree. (TEC.)