When looking to cut through the spin, sometimes it’s best to turn to satirists. When mock newspaper, the Betoota Advocate published the headline this week; “English mate who’s ready to get hurt again starts convincing himself it’s coming home this time,” many Australians couldn’t help but chuckle.
Beneath the gag is a history of truth. For all the success and fame of the English Premier League, England has never progressed further than a semi-final of a major tournament since 1966. In those 55 years, they’ve only got to that stage four times.
Raheem Sterling celebrates his winner for England against the Czech Republic at Wembley.Credit:Getty
Worse has been their history in the knockout stage of European Championships overall. Before Wednesday, England had never won an elimination match in 90 minutes in the tournament while penalty shootouts have been another sore point. Three World Cups (1990, 1998 and 2006) and three Euros (1996, 2004 and 2012) have ended in defeat on penalties.
However, the tenure of manager Gareth Southgate has vanquished those supposed demons. England beat Colombia in a shootout at the 2018 World Cup, and their defeat of Germany in regular time also ended their poor elimination record in European championships.
“The hurt, the pain – we all know the history, it’s put into you from a young age,” Bridges said. “But I really think this group of players that have come through are on that crest of a wave where it doesn’t seem to affect them.”
The significance was reflected by English media immediately. The Guardian described the win over Germany as “like emerging from a dream into a strange new light”. The Financial Times likened it to “the spirit of ’66”. The Daily Mirror suggested it will “open up the route” to the final as vocal fans are singing “it’s coming home”.
The hysteria is of no surprise to English-born football commentator Simon Hill.
“Football is our national passion,” Hill said. “With England, it’s all or nothing. If they win, they are heroes and people worship at their alter and if they lose, people metaphorically throw rotten fruit at them. It’s the same in Italy, same in Spain and same in Germany I imagine.”
Only, those other countries have won major trophies in the past 55 years, which is why Hill isn’t joining in the frenzy yet.
“The expectations are huge and they are unrealistically huge,” Hill said. “If they want a lesson in history they only need to go back to the last Euros where they drew Iceland in the round of 16. Everyone was looking at the France quarter-final in Paris and we didn’t get past Iceland, we lost. They have to be careful not to heap too much pressure on the team.“
England still has three more games to win before it ends its search for silverware, with a quarter-final clash against Ukraine on Sunday morning (5am AEST) the first. They are playing decent football, have an impressive roster balanced with experience and youth, are on the weaker side of the draw and could play their semi-final and final on home turf at Wembley.
“If there’s any time to do it, it’s now,” Bridges said.
Even then, experience has taught Bridges to taper his expectations. “If they crumble against Ukraine, this conversation is out the window,” he said.
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