It is hard to conceptualise it as we enter 2021 in the grip of the Covid variant, but what lies ahead this year just might be football’s golden summer.
The European Championship, concluding in London on July 11, will throw open these islands’ doors for a carnival of rediscovered freedoms and companionship, built around sport’s most beautiful game.
And, what’s more, the notion of England winning the thing, just months after the nation staggers from the depths of a deeply difficult winter, is not so fanciful.
What lies ahead this year just might be football’s golden summer for the England team
Gareth Southgate’s side are about far more than their unimpeachable strikeforce
Their three group games, the semi-finals and the final will all be at Wembley. The team will be led by a manager who listens, adapts, delegates and happens to knows the value of a little self-effacement.
Gareth Southgate’s side are about far more than that unimpeachable strikeforce of Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. Two players who have erred in the past, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, might be the ones who bring the gold dust to a Euros final, perhaps against Joachim Low’s Germany or Luis Enrique’s Spain, 191 days from now.
From today’s deeply uncertain place — with the variant beginning to grip football so unpredictably that the suspension of the Premier League is not unthinkable — consider for a moment what such a final might mean.
Jack Grealish and Phil Foden (above) might be the ones who bring the gold dust to a Euros final
Street parties. The live feed in Hyde Park. Appropriate acts of remembrance for the boys of ’66 whom we lost in 2020. Covid meant that Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles were not afforded the send-off they so richly deserved.
The carnival will not belong to England alone. Scotland’s qualification, with a group fixture against England on Friday, June 18, offers them a first tournament appearance since 1998.
Wales must venture to Rome and Baku for their group games, though from Cardiff to Caernarfon, the mood of national excitement will be no less.
Scotland’s dramatic qualification offers them a first tournament appearance since 1998
Wales must venture to Rome and Baku for their group games as the national excitement grows
Some of the stars at the tournament will seem far less removed from our everyday lives than before. Rashford, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have demonstrated that the contribution of players to society need not stop when they leave the field. The colossal wages in the modern game have bred cynicism about those who play it at the elite level.
In the depths of the pandemic, players such as Rashford restored some faith.
Perhaps their self-confidence and powers of articulation, which swept away the anti-intellectualism attached to football for far too long, might persuade other players to follow their lead this year.
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