Ever since that famous summer in 1966 Football fans have craved for a return to the mountain top for our national team and along the way we have experienced a plethora of emotions. With the glorious highs also came the crushing lows for a population that places so much of its faith, energy, and hope into its national side.
For long sustained periods we have seen our team fall way below the lofty expectations we have placed upon it, much has been made of various teams that never realized their vast potential, moulded from managers that have came from both these shores and overseas.
England’s failures and short comings have been alarmingly apparent across all major competitions for many years, which has manifested itself under a lack of managerial nous and player motivation.
However, I firmly believe that under the right head coach and set up England can flourish once more into a team that can make us proud again. With Gareth Southgate at the helm I feel that next summers European Championship is a stark possibility to land silverware for the first time since 1966.
The English FA’s reluctance to appoint flair managers and reach for a safe pair of hands can be traced back to the dismissal of Sir Alf Ramsey, after England’s failure at the 1970 World Cup, eliminated by old foes West Germany in the quarter finals.
Brian Clough was the hottest most charismatic manager in the game at the time. He enjoyed a trophy laden period of dominance with Derby County and Nottingham Forest, capturing back to back European Cups with an unfancied, unfashionable team.
He was inexplicably never handed the reigns and England failed to qualify for the subsequent European Championship’s and World Cup tournaments in an age where ‘old big ead’ ruled the managerial roost.
England finally awoke from their slumber and returned to the grand stage with qualification secured under manager Ron Greenwood for the 1982 World Cup held in Spain.
England disappointingly exited at the group stage as our national game had fallen by the wayside and has done so on many other occasions with the wrong hierarchy put into place.
However if the appointment is a shrewd one it has been shown that results will often follow closely behind.
Bobby Robson’s subsequent arrival in the Autumn of 1982 heralded an upturn in England’s fortunes as they reached the quarter finals of Mexico 86 and the semi-finals in Italia 90 under his 8 year stewardship. The infamous ‘hand of god’ by Diego Maradona had dumped England out in Mexico in a travesty of justice that left Robson and a nation on its knees. This somewhat steeled Robson’s resolve and he led England into the next World Cup In 1990 with an unyielding desire to put things right after such a undeserving loss 4 years previous.
What followed was a march to the semi-finals led by the the mercurial Paul Gascoigne, who would ultimately miss the final if England had made it by getting booked during the match against West Germany. In familiar scenes England were cast aside by the dreaded penalty shoot out, yet they returned home heroes after such an enthralling and emotional journey in Italy.
Failure to qualify for USA 94 followed under Graham Taylor who had endured a simialirly disastrous Euro 92 campaign. Terry Venables would soon step into the breach and yet again it showed that under a charismatic manager is where a team can fullfill its underlying potential.
A fearless band of brothers went into battle at those home European championships in 1996, Paul Gascoigne once again a stand out performer, supplying the ammunition for Alan Shearer and Teddy Sheringham, the much loved SAS partnership. Whilst the likes of Tony Adams, Stuart Pearce, and goalkeeper David Seaman defiantly held the rearguard of the team together.
Yet another captivating ride to the semi-final’s ensued, with failure on penalties costing the team once again to the heartbreak of a nation. Yet we took solace from the promise that this team were exuding, surely major tournament success was on the horizon.
It never materialised however, much to the chagrin of supporters and the media alike as a vast array of managers such as Sven Goran Eriksson failed to capitalise on the precocious talent being nurtured in the English game. Placing players out of position and selecting by reputation rather than current form.
The Swede himself being the number one perpetrator as he bought into the facet of the celebrity culture surrounding the team during his reign from 2000 until 2006. He often placed round pegs in square holes in order to simply cram the biggest superstars into a formation that would simply house them all, rather than a system that would bring the best out of the squad.
Quarter final failure at every tournament under him would be the pinnacle of his achievements, leaving us the fans disappointed and baffled by his team selection and such inadequate tactical flexibility.
With the nation crying out for progress the FA took the uninspiring choice to name Sven’s assistant Steve McLaren as his predecessor, yet another vanilla appointment that was destined to fail as we shamefully failed to qualify for Euro 2008 as McLaren left his position as a laughing stock.
Fabio Capello was next on the chopping block as the distinguished Italian was handed the top job in our game. Again England failed miserably under his leadership in two major tournaments as his regimented approach and reliance on the old guard frustrated both the media and the fans as we seemed to slipping behind every nation in the sport.
Enter Roy Hodgson whose appointment was greeted with little fanfare in 2012, leading us into another disastrous World Cup campaign in 2014. Once again we floundered at the group stage, as little Costa Rica advanced at our expense in Brazil.
After a lacklustre Euro 2012 and a dire showing at the aforementioned World Cup in 2014, Roy was deemed to be fortunate to have a final foray at glory, with a shot at the European Championships in 2016 in France.
What unfolded next was unfathomable as England sunk to unprecedented new depths with a 2-1 defeat to minnows Iceland in the last 16. The nation was left in a state of shock as a performance completely void of heart, desire, and quality was played out in front of our eyes in scenes that had to be seen to be believed. Hodgson resigned shortly after in yet another catastrophic failure for English Football.
The next appointment by the Football Association would be crucial, as our image as the home of football had been trashed and left in the gutter by under performing players and inadequate management.
Gareth Southgate would be the man handed the responsibility going forward, promoted from within the system after successfully managing the under 21’s. It was viewed somewhat a puzzling choice at the time however as he was perceived by many as yet another bland appointment, myself included.
What has followed however has invigorated our passion for the game and restored the notion of pride in pulling on an England shirt.
Southgate’s willing to discard the status quo from the playing staff seemed like the shot in the arm that an ambling squad desperately needed for a very long time. Players would have to earn the right for an England cap under his leadership, as fresh talent were promoted to the senior team in a move that seemed to be nigh on impossible to navigate in previous era’s.
Gone was the predictable starting line up and style of play that had stunted England’s growth for so many years, replaced by a bold new system that placed faith in youth over experience as England reached the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since for 28 years in 2018.
Southgate’s desire and likeable demeanour seemed to bridge the gap between his players and a disenchanted fanbase that had suffered for so long under numerous failures and disappointment.
The penalty hoodoo that had hovered over England for 22 years was also cast aside as Eric Dier guided home the winning penalty against Colombia in the last 16. Our mentality had metamorphisised on the big stage and under Southgate’s tutelage I believe he can build on the rock solid foundations that he has built.
England’s lack of big game experience would eventually lead to their downfall against Croatia losing 2-1 after extra time. Yet throughout the tournament we were thrilled by a youthful exuberance that would signify the giant strides this team had made in such a short space of time.
England’s journey in Russia made it an unforgettable, uplifting Summer, as joyful scenes up and down the country filled news bulletins and our media feeds, proof that football promotes unity and happiness, a vital piece of our social fabric.
Southgate has continued to deliver on that early promise as he has lead us to 3rd place in the inaugrial League Of Nations finals in 2019, ousting Germany and Croatia in a tough series of fixtures.
Following on from that achievement we now eagerly await the rescheduled European Championships in 2021 as he takes his charges into battle against the best that Europe has to offer.
The tournament itself is set to take place across various European destinations as the competition celebrates its 60 year anniversary, with Wembley the venue for the semi-finals, final, and the vast majority of England’s fixtures. Alas it seems a golden opportunity for Southgate and the team to take the next step in its development and capture that first major trophy in 55 years.
The talent in the team is second to none with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane all considered to be world class talents. Whilst in midfield and defence we boast an array of talent that we haven’t had in a number of years, with the likes of Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire blossoming into seasoned professionals.
Alongside the backing of a fiery and passionate fanbase I predict that England can take advantage of the home playing field and push themselves into the latter stages of the finals and possibly even win it. Although we have fallen into this trap many times before I feel that this England outfit is made of a different irk under Southgate. We finally have a man who is not afraid to pull the trigger on big decisions and knows the heart breaking price of failure and the thrill of success after playing under Terry Venables in our last home Championships in Euro 96.
We as fans can accept failure, but what we will not tolerate is a shortfall of effort, and in Southgate we have a man who has managed to galvanise a winning mentality from his playing staff. It is safe to say we have finally emerged from the wilderness after too many years of frustration and disappointment that had resulted in contempt for the modern footballer.
I believe that we are very much back in love with our national team, thanks to Southgate’s profound ability to get the best from his players and his core beliefs in team spirit and harmony, as over the years it has been common knowledge that club loyalties had created division amongst the squad.
Those past practices are now consigned to the scrapheap and it is vitally important now more than ever, that we as a nation come together and tackle adversity as one.
With that attitude and mindset there is nothing we can’t overcome or achieve.
Under the guidance of Gareth Southgate I believe that our football team can mirror those sentiments and press on to glory next summer!
Thanks for reading!