Euros 2020: England v Germany was only a football match but it felt like redemption – we can reunite our country again
30th June 2021

THIS meant more.

England beating Germany 2-0 on Tuesday evening has unleashed a feeling of collective euphoria.

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This cocktail we drink to the dregs is made up of joy, relief, pride, disbelief and a few emotions that we are struggling to name.

And of course, it is to do with that glorious football — 55 years of hurt and all that — but it also has to do with pain, trauma and frustrations that have nothing to do with football.

We needed this moment! A moment of national unity, a shared sense of pride, achievement and — say it — ecstasy.

We craved it, yearned for it and we deserved it. We have earned it.

We needed it as the nation that invented the beautiful game and has underperformed on the football pitch for decades.

We needed it as a country that has endured the worst health emergency for over 100 years.


We needed it as a people who have been divided by a referendum that took place over five years ago.

And — yes, Prime Minister — we needed it as we begin to despair at the timidity and hypocrisy of those who rule us.

We are still coming to terms with this national euphoria.

As this as good as it gets? Will it feel even better if England win their first international football tournament since 1966? Are we right — have we been right all along — to love our country and have great expectations for our future?

This we can say for certain — we are giddy with joy, high on life itself, and in no mood to come down. It is far, far more than a feelgood factor.

In my long lifetime, I remember one moment that comes close. I was watching the 1966 World Cup Final — the first one I remember, which of course has spoiled me for life — with my mum.

And I recall Geoff Hurst on a black and white television set, heading for the German goal and into history right at the end of extra time, right at the very end of the best day of my childhood.

And I remember Kenneth Wolstenholme’s voice. I remember it as clearly as if he was speaking to me now. “There are people on the pitch . . . they think it’s all over . . . ” Something ended and something began on that day.

For my parents, and our neighbours in our street in suburban Essex, and my aunts and uncles ­— all those men and women who remembered the war, either fighting it or living out their childhoods in the Blitz — the war seemed to finally recede into the past.

Not completely, never completely for that generation, but all the trauma, pain and sacrifice became a part of history. And the Sixties, in all their gaudy Technicolor, really began.

England v Germany in 1966 was only a football match. Just as England v Germany in 2021 was only a football match.

But there is no denying that they were both the kind of sporting event that defines the mood of a nation, that captures something real and profound about where the country has been and where it is going.


Redemption was everywhere on Tuesday night. You saw it on the faces of the fans — did any crowd ever look quite that delirious with joy? — and you saw it on the faces of the players. And you saw it on the face of the England manager.

Decent, soft-spoken, serious Gareth Southgate — a middle-aged man of gravitas shaped by the memory of missing a penalty in that same ground 25 years ago.

Hollywood would never dare make up such a heart-wrenching story line, such a tale of resurrection, such a happy ending!

And like all the best stories, this one was true. It was only a football match, but it was one of those sporting events that made you feel that decency can win in the end, that hard work will have its reward, and that sweat and tears and doing your best is never a waste of time.

And it also told us: England can beat Germany. We will never have that knee-knocking trepidation about the real old enemy again.

When Jack Grealish is a silver-haired pundit analysing Euro 2050 on a BBC sofa with a bald Phil Foden with Alex Scott presiding, they will chuckle about the night England overcame its fear of Die Mannschaft — the self-regarding name the Germans give their national football team — and shake their wizened heads in wonder that we ever believed they had some kind of hex on us. Not any more.

It was only a football match, but it was the best therapy in the world. It brought us together again after all those years when families, friends and colleagues have been bitterly divided over Brexit.

It helped make up for all that has been lost and denied over the 15 months of this pandemic.

As a nation, and as a football team, that 2-0 victory salved some of our wounds and, not least, gave us a night on the town like we haven’t had for a long time.

It was more than good. It was perfect.

So perfect that it was the Germans who were on the other end of the trouncing.

Perfect that Harry Kane found his form just as the business end of this tournament begins.

Perfect that Gareth Southgate thanked the stars that shone in a Wembley sky. And perfect — just bloody wonderful, really — that you didn’t need to be around in 1966 to understand the significance of the night.

Most of those fans going crazy, in the stadium and all over the land, will not even remember Euro 1996.

Because it is all seared into our collective memory. All the agony and the ecstasy — mostly agony — of the last 55 years is part of our national story for ever.

Whatever your age, the weight of all that history is what you felt when you were celebrating on Tuesday night.

We have been knocked about as a nation. We have been battered by the Germans in every football match that mattered for all of my life.

We have endured the wrath of an angry, embittered EU for the last five years and it is possible that we may have to put up with it forever. We have seen our most beloved politicians let us down.

Our most popular royals inform us we are racist bigots. We have been made to feel bad about ourselves, our history, our nation.

Until Tuesday night. Until we beat Germany two-nil. It was only a football match — honest.

But those giddy, glorious, nail-biting 90 minutes have given us permission to love our country again.

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