Must we play that song again? It’s not as if The Lightning Seeds have any other notable songs to be fair. When assembling a best-of CD of their work, Three Lions would probably fill out three-fourths of the tracklist, and the rest would be covers, karaoke versions or tribute follow-ups to their surprise hit with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel. “It’s coming home,” they repeat. Endlessly. Shout they shall every four years at their international squad, hoping for some change to be made somewhere down the line. Alan Shearer quipped that this was the “best chance” England have of it coming home, and he isn’t wrong. Whether it was or wasn’t, it wouldn’t matter to the hivemind of fans who truly believe in their heart of hearts that it is, indeed, coming home.
Why think this? Why indeed. We live in a football culture where the thoughts “It’s coming home!” and “Gareth Southgate is a clueless manager,” can co-exist with one another. Armchair managers across the globe throw a fit with Jack Grealish on the bench and beg for Raheem Sterling to be taken off so we can play a different winger. Taking England’s Euro 2020 top goal scorer off and switching him out for a guy that looks good because the players around him at his home club are mediocre isn’t a tactic we can be too comforted by.
But it is a tactic and a skill set we England fans have grown used to. Our track record at the Euros is not a merry sight. For all this talk of it coming home, it would be nice to see the squad take themselves to the final for the first time in the history of the tournament. There are talks of Tottenham and Arsenal being tinpot clubs. Big-name value with dusty trophy rooms. England are that on an international level. Southgate has had an easy, lucky run of it so far, yet has not quite won over the hearts and minds of generations of beer-bellied fifty-somethings yelling at a screen in their local that “they could’ve scored that.”
But could they have scored that? Or, at least, more than what England have scored at the moment? Four measly goals spread across three dull matches and an apparent showstopper that put to bed the idea that England could no longer beat big teams. To their credit, Germany has had their worst run in decades, looked off-form and have a manager whose departure predates the tournament. It must be heavy on the minds of that team, and with a few chances unlucky enough to be left well alone, Germany crashed out not through being bested by a better team, but by their own incompetence.
It is the luck of the game, though, is it not? That great divide between quality and consistency is how lucky a draw a team gets. Italy has had a hard go of it, dispelling Belgium with style and grace. They ran circles around them, and despite their weakened defence in the final moments of the second half, they held firm and continued pressing. That’ll be the downfall England finds themselves faced with in the final. Defensively all over the shop, always playing it back. Those last few sentences are exactly what the conversations will be before their match with Ukraine, before their match with Denmark or the Czech Republic, and before their match with Italy. It is not a matter of if they beat Ukraine, for we England fans feel they have borne the brunt of the group stages and have really come into their own. Fact is, they have yet to face anyone with considerable weight to them. A team that can cause damage.
They’re all on the other side of the draw or have been unlucky enough to be eliminated through cockiness and flukes. France and Portugal had fair shots that were pulled from under them because they believed themselves to be too big to fail, and, thus, failed. Even Germany had to scrape through their group stages. For a time, it looked like it’d be Hungary drawing a place against England. But that is the way life is meant to be, and their time will come soon enough. Probably. It is very much down to luck and how players perform per game. Harry Kane looked like a different man in the second half of the England v Germany game compared to that of the group stages.
Fatigue is the excuse, but how far can we throw an excuse? He has pushed his way through ninety-minute slogs under the Tottenham team in both league and tournament competition and is now pushing himself through another endless stream of matches, with the added pressure of a nation behind him. It is a mentality thing, though. Everyone is tired. Kevin De Bruyne had a tough season, an injury-mired one. He gave a good showing of his talents in the match against Italy despite a 2-1 loss. Kane is tired, no doubts about it, but is that much of an excuse when everyone else is too? I’m tired of hearing Frank Skinner pour his nut-brown nonsense into my ears on the radio, but I’ll be damned if I protest it too strongly.
Perhaps this tournament is catharsis for Southgate. He is making up for the mistakes of his disastrous penalty at Euro ‘96. See? It all comes back to the nostalgia so many feel. Some hold it dear to their hearts despite not being born to see the matches themselves. That’s what YouTube is for, though. It’s coming home one way or another, the final is at Wembley. Some will surely console themselves with that fact as Italy hold the trophy high above their heads. Until then, though, it’s all coming home. There are three lions on a shirt for a reason. What that reason is, we have yet to discover. It is an opportunity for reflection that rests on making it to a final, which England have never done. This is their best shot. No wonder England fans are so worried. We still believe.