I need to get this off my chest while it's still raw.
This may be quite long.....
My first international football memory is WC '86. England started slowly, but got steadily better until they ultimately went out to the hand of God. I was proud of the team, but of course it was tinged with sadness and regret of what might have been.
On to Italia '90. Another slow start, then David Platt does a 360 in extra time against Belgium and we begin to look like world-beaters. With dear old Bobby at the helm, Gazza, Waddle, Linekar up front we look unstoppable...until we lose to Germany on penalties after a freak OG in ET. Again, I'm proud of the boys but....what might have been.
We then put a turnip in charge of the team and did diddly squat at Euro '92. Didn't even make it to WC '94, but then came Euro '96. El Tel is in charge and we have our first decent football anthem since '66. 30 years of hurt never stopped me dreaming. We start off with a draw, scrape past Scotland thanks to Gazza and Uri Geller before battering the Dutch and banishing the ghosts of '90 as an emotional Stuart Pearce scores a redemption penalty in the shootout win over Spain. But then the SF...the Germans again...we're 1-0 up in no time before getting pegged back. Then in GG ET, Gazza's on the end of a cross for a tap in...but he stops running, misses the ball by inches. It's penalties again, and this time poor Southgate misses. Tremendous team, great performances, Shearer on fire...so proud, but...what might have been.
WC '98 is in France. Practically at home. Another slow start, another nice bit of momentum as a young lad called Beckahm scores on WC debut with a stupendous free kick. In the KO phases, an even younger lad bursts onto the scene with a goal from his own half as Michael Owen takes on half the Argentine defence. Then tragedy; Beckham gets sent off, Campbell has a goal disallowed and we lose on penalties. Again. I'm proud though, so proud....but...what might have been.
The theme repeats. We play well in 2002, knocking out Argentina but then lose to a freak goal from Ronaldinho. Nicky Butt is player of the tournament. I'm proud, but....that was a great Brazillian team and we were 1-0 up. What might have been. Euro 2004. Another young lad, this one a fat lad called Wayne takes the game by storm. We power through the groups, look unstoppable. Then Rooney hobbles off injured. We score a dramatic equaliser in ET against Portugal...and then lose on penalties. I'm proud...we have a golden generation coming through. What might have been though. 2006 and we lose on penalties to Portugal again. Rooney doesn't finish the match; this time because a young lad called Cristiano gets him sent off. What might have been....
We don't make it to Euro 2008. Fast forward to 2010. South Africa. The golden generation at their peak. But something's not quite right. We draw with America. We qualify by scraping past Serbia 1-0 before getting outclassed by Germany. Euro 2012 comes and goes with a whimper. WC 2014 is even worse - we're the first team to get knocked out after a mere 2 games. Some folks haven't even arrived for the party and we're going home for an early night. Our only point is against Costa Rica who have already qualified. There is no pride. No passion. Nothing but embarrasment and anger, emotions repeated at Euro 2016 when we lose to a country with the population of Coventry.
WC 2018 promised more of the same. An inexperienced squad. A lacklustre campaign. A manager who wouldn't get a job in the Premier League. Despite an easy group, memories of WC 2014 were too strong and I expected nothing but further embarrassment and anger.
But instead we took advantage of a competition that opened up for us. We played with composure not seen since the Hoddle days. We had players who actually played better for their country than their club, a manager who brought calm and a little bit of hope. We banished the penalty hoodoo, the Scandanavian hoodoo and the ITV hoodoo in the space of two weeks until tonight, when the talented Croatians outplayed us for all but the first 45 minutes to end the dream that football was coming home. I'm proud of the lads, proud but sad....what might have been?
I spent my first 16 years as an England fan feeling proud but sad. For the last 8 years it's been embarrassment and anger. Southgate and the boys may have brought back the sadness, but they brought back the pride as well. I'd rather be proud and sad than embarrassed and angry.
Being a football fan absolutely sucks sometimes. My club team lost the CL final in a weird way, and my international team went out of the WC when they had the best chance in 50 years of winning the damm thing. But i wouldn't change it for the world.
It's been emotional folks. Pleasure sharing the ride with you all.