England 2024 squad have gone where the boys of ’66 failed to tread… and are 90 minutes away from sporting immortality

England 2024 squad have gone where the boys of ’66 failed to tread… and are 90 minutes away from sporting immortality

ONLY 25 emotion-wracked days have passed since Jude Bellingham’s bullet header set England on the path to glory.

Just under four weeks on from that opening game and Gareth Southgate has conjured up memories that are now part of our national sporting story.

AFPEngland have had a Euros to remember, pictured Jude Bellingham’s late equaliser v Slovakia[/caption]

RexGareth Southgate has led England to another Euros Final[/caption]

England are in an overseas final for the first time after last night’s nerve-shredding win over the Netherlands.

The Three Lions of 2024 have gone where even Bobby Moore and the boys of ’66 failed to tread.

During those 25 days, Glastonbury rocked, Taylor Swift wowed Wembley and Wimbledon began in the drizzle.

Also the US President disastrously stiffed, France has been thrown into political turmoil and we have got a new Prime Minister.

Cocooned at their remote German base camp in Blankenhain, England’s squad were carving out history of their own.

There were outrageous bicycle-kick goals and redemptive penalties. Phil Foden even witnessed the birth of his third child between games.

With admirable zen-like calm, Southgate (surely Sir Gareth soon or, perhaps, Lord Southgate of Crawley), has quietly proved his naysayers wrong.

Masterminding England’s route to the final, he has had to ignore the welter of criticism from ex- players, overpaid pundits and many armchair experts. It seems crazy now but Southgate, who has always led with quiet dignity, was booed earlier in the tournament and even had beer cups chucked at him.

As they say on Strictly, tournament football with England is “a journey”.

It began on June 16 in Gelsenkirchen against Serbia with high hopes — and Southgate’s men the tournament favourites.

Carnival atmosphere

In the build-up to the game, skipper Harry Kane revealed he uses chess to switch off from the pressures of football.

Kane was inspired to take up the board game after becoming engrossed in Netflix drama The Queen’s Gambit.

Kane revealed: “You have to focus on every moment, every move.”

His every move on the football field would soon come under microscopic scrutiny.

Meanwhile, German authorities announced that only weak shandy would be sold at the 62,000-seat Veltins Arena.

Deemed a high-risk game, fans were only allowed a maximum of two pints at a time of 2.5 per cent beer, which was half lager and half lemonade. Thousands of Three Lions fans descended on the old coal mining city in the Ruhr industrial region.

A few knuckleheads got involved in aggro before the game and six have received football banning orders.

Yet our vast travelling army of fans have largely been well-behaved and a credit to the country. Those at games report a carnival atmosphere, albeit one awash with lager.

Simon Harris, who has been following England at tournaments since France ’98, described the fanbase as “young guys out on a staggy-type do and middle-aged people like me who enjoy travel and football”.

He added: “It’s just regular people going out for a bit of an escape.”

Every stadium where the Three Lions have played have been festooned with St George Flags, making them resemble a Wembley on the Rhine.

Like a gazetteer of England’s market towns and city suburbs, the flags are emblazoned with the names of clubs from Plymouth Argyle the South to Carlisle United in the North.

ReutersFans celebrating England’s penalty win against Switzerland[/caption]

Prince William celebrating Saka’s screaming goal against the SwissGetty

One large flag bore the simple message, “England Expects” while another said, “Aldershot, home of the British Army”.

Union Flags seemed to have made a comeback with fans, and the Isle of Man flag with its three armoured legs has also been spotted.

Support from the stands has been raucous and constant.

As well as old favourites such as The Great Escape and Don’t Take Me Home is a new ditty in homage to Foden.

Set to the tune of Bruce Spring-steen’s hit Dancing In The Dark, the adapted lyrics go: “Can’t start a fire, can’t start a fire without a spark.

“Phil Foden’s on fire, he’ll be playing the Germans off the park.” West Ham’s Jarrod Bowen also has his own ditty: “Bowen’s on fire and he’s s*ging Dani Dyer.”

When Bellingham headed home Bukayo Saka’s cross in the 13th minute, the Three Lions fans serenaded him with The Beatles’ Hey Jude. The 1968 song’s Spotify downloads were up 19 per cent overnight.

The whole country is behind them to go all the way

Rishi Sunak

Stourbridge-born Jude said of the England fans: “They give me a lot of appreciation and a lot of love and I try to give that back with my performances and energy on the pitch.”

England’s Wags greeted the players in the stands after the win. There was a cuddle for Harry Kane from wife Kate Goodland while Megan Davison (goalie Jordan Pickford’s wife) and Annie Kilner (married to Kyle Walker) were also spotted. Saka’s glamorous girlfriend Tolami Benson was later said by Harper’s Bazaar magazine to have “single-handedly revived waggery”.

The mag pointed to the 23-year-old’s “savvy sartorial choices and photogenic beauty”. In the wake of the win, Rishi Sunak said amid his disastrous election campaign:

“It’s great to see England get our Euros campaign off to a winning start. “The whole country is behind them to go all the way.” The same wasn’t true of the Conservative Party Next up were Denmark on the Summer Solstice

The Sun called on druid King Arthur Pendragon to summon the spirits of the ancients at Stonehenge to fire up the team.

But Just Stop Oil protesters sprayed the sacred stones with orange powder which, according to King Arthur, affected their “mystic powers”.

An early Kane goal only led to a laboured 1-1 draw. Despite four points in the can, the Podcasterati went ape. Ex-England skipper Gary Lineker described the performance succinctly as “s**t”.

Nation went nuts

He also said Kane “needs to do a lot better”.

Then, the final group game — a dire 0-0 against Slovenia. England had won the group but some treated the drab encounter as if the sky had fallen in.

This is a job where you get ridiculed, and your professional capability is questioned beyond belief

Gareth Southgate

When Southgate went over to thank England’s travelling army of fans for their support, he was rewarded by a small minority with boos and a hail of plastic beer cups.

The England manager refused to be cowed.

“This is a job where you get ridiculed, and your professional capability is questioned beyond belief,” he said. “I don’t think it’s normal to have beer thrown at you either.

“But I’m fortunate that my life’s taken me through a lot of resilience-building and it’s made me more determined and I’m just using it as fuel.”

After the game, real life intervened for Foden.

GettyTolami Benson, girlfriend of Bukayo Saka, at England’s win v Slovakia[/caption]

The 24-year-old jetted home to Britain to be with partner Rebecca Cooke as she gave birth to their third child.

He was back in time for the round of 16 against another well-drilled and tenacious central European outfit. Slovakia went 1-0 up on 25 minutes. England laboured to little effect.

The stoppage-time clock ticked to 95 minutes. Some fans left the Gelsenkirchen arena in disgust.

Across England, expletives that would put Lineker to shame were being hurled at TV sets. With seconds remaining, a long throw-in was flicked on by England defender Marc Guehi.

In the box, angel-like, was Bellingham. Then time seemed to stand still.

His acrobatic bicycle kick met the ball perfectly and a nation went nuts.

Bellingham was later slapped with a £25,400 fine by Uefa for his understandable “big balls” celebration (clasping his hands around his crotch).

A Kane goal early in extra time wrapped it up. It meant an in-form Switzerland in the quarter final. England played well but it drifted to the living death of penalties.

Pickford had his water bottle with its cheat sheet on the Swiss players’ penalties habits written on the side.

The Everton man promptly saved the first.

For England, Cole Palmer was coldly efficient from the spot, Bellingham his assured self. Next came Saka, who had been racially abused after missing a penalty in the 2020 Euros final.

England rejoiced as the ball bulged the net. A grinning Saka had his Stuart Pearce moment.

Then, up stepped Ivan Toney. He scored a brilliant penalty while staring out the keeper and not even glancing at the ball. He was later seen in a spoof video from the England camp playing games and even reading without looking at what he is doing.

It was left to Trent Alexander-Arnold to finish things off with aplomb. In the stands, FA President Prince William had gone through the range of emotions shown by every fan. At times he had his head in his hands before punching the air, his face contorted in joy.

On rolled the semis and the Netherlands last night. More tense minutes, some fans resorting to several cold bevvies, others peeking through fingers. All the while, Southgate kept his cool. His history boys had made it to the final.

Now they are just 90 minutes — and, perhaps, extra time and dreaded penalties — away from sporting immortality

GettyIvan Toney’s no-look penalty v Switzerland[/caption]

https://x.com/EnglandToney plays Connect Four and reads a book without looking in hilarious England video after his famous penalty[/caption]

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