SO, IT isn’t coming home… yet.

Driving back from Wembley to the south coast in the rain through the night after the Euro 2020 final, the main emotion was not one of disappointment, but instead pride that this group of players and staff represent England.

I joined the ever-growing list of emotionally scarred Three Lions fans halfway through this 55-year drought, and while Sunday night’s penalty shoot-out loss to Italy can join the likes of the ‘Golden Generation’ being beaten by Ronaldinho’s lob, Ricardo’s spot-kick heroics, the rainy night against Croatia under Steve McClaren and THAT Iceland game in the archives, it does feel different this time.

There is real hope that this team can bring it home, be that next year, or 18 months after that at the following Euros.

Bournemouth Echo:

It had always been a dream to watch England live in a major tournament. The pandemic put paid to that, as it did for many others, with tickets I’d purchased for the Scotland group game lost via the ballot with a smaller allocation of fans allowed in to the ground.

However, an unexpected opportunity arose just a month or so before the tournament began, with a handful of regional English publications offered a media pass for Euros, with the Echo included.

This time last year I was into my fourth consecutive month of furlough leave, such a tough period to deal with mentally.

So to be at Wembley on that sunny Sunday afternoon for England’s group opener with Croatia less than 12 months on was a real honour, something which will never be lost on me.

Bournemouth Echo:

What happened from there made it a month-long worth of memories, not just for me but for millions across the country.

Quite rightly there was still plenty of goodwill towards this England team and boss Gareth Southgate following their unexpected run to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018.

But the world has changed so much since then. After the relentless schedule of the football season just gone, with more games packed into a shorter space of time to make up for months lost due to the pandemic, the prospect of another month of football for many was quite hard to get fully on board with.

Don’t get me wrong, I know what a fortunate position I have been in during these past 12 months, to attend near enough two football games a week, every week, with fans forced to watch on from home. But, first and foremost, my love of football came from being a fan first too, as it did for most of the players we watch every week. Playing game after game in front of empty stadiums has taken its toll on the players, who need that lift from a live crowd to get them through tough moments.

There have been a few glimpses of what life used to be like, particularly whilst covering the two legs of the Championship play-off semi-final between Cherries and Brentford in May, with some fans allowed back in.

But some of the moments delivered by this England team at Wembley over the past month just reminded me exactly why I love watching this sport. Sadly I missed the semi-final win over Denmark due to self-isolation rules, but the outburst of joy when Raheem Sterling broke the deadlock against Germany, just having some proper away fans back at a game like the Scotland contingent and then the noise when Luke Shaw struck against Italy, probably the loudest stadium I’ve witnessed live before, were a stark reminder of just what this game is all about. Etiquette around the press box was certainly tested to its very limit when Jordan Pickford saved Jorginho’s penalty as well!

People watch for the drama and the atmosphere, not just the football.

Bournemouth Echo:

Add to that the fact there is so much to like about this England team – there are stories all over the pitch. Southgate’s redemption after his own tale of England woe, the likes of Shaw, Pickford, Harry Maguire and John Stones proving critics wrong, Sterling and Marcus Rashford’s inspirational efforts off the pitch and some of the most exciting, talented young players bursting onto the scene such as Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, the list goes on.

Still, with no trophy, there will come some form of criticism. It is a big missed opportunity, as it was against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and this management team must quickly learn how to deal better with that type of situation, taking an early lead in such big games.

But after what has been an horrendous year or more for so many, particularly across this country, this team has helped to inspire and bring people together again.

I know people with little or no interest in football before this tournament who were glued to their screens watching the final, also receiving messages from others I’d not heard from in months, just to talk about what it has been like to cover this England team.

Sunday was an historic occasion, perhaps once in a lifetime, England hosting and competing in a major international final. Just to be there to witness it felt special.

They could not quite get over the line this time, but I am excited for what the future could hold for this England team.

And I am excited for the upcoming football season to begin again next month, covering Saints and Cherries across the country, with thousands of you back in the grounds too.