So close, so close

A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Else, what’s a heav’n for?

It was great while it lasted. The England football team’s gallant quest for a huge shiny piece of bling for the St George’s Park trophy cabinet. They will win one. They surely will. Just not this year.

Just look at how far they have come though. The images doing the round of the dejected Gareth Southgate after hitting the post with his penalty in 1996 have now been matched by those of him comforting not only his own players but also those of Denmark after beating that team in the semi-finals. Those are the images that we have to hold onto from the last two weeks, those images and those of the jubilation of the players and the fans, and that little girl’s face when Mason Mount gave her his shirt. Those images, and the one of the flowers and flags adorning the mural of Marcus Rashford after it was defaced, are what we need to take with us to the next competition and not the images of yobs charging into Wembley, beating up Italian supporters, spraying their scent everywhere like rampant tom cats, and dropping their trousers in Leicester Square to stick a flare in a place that flares really don’t belong.

What is wrong with people? The mindless thuggery, the racist chants, the general bloody awfulness makes my blood boil. I’ve seen footage of the carnage at Wembley and, sorry to say, it was probably always going to kick off like that. Insufficient police presence, and security in the hands of part-time stewards, plus extra checks due to Covid tests – supposedly -, all happening at the biggest game for the national team for 55 years. It was certainly the most important game since Wembley – the home of football – was re-built. A game that, for TV rights’ purposes, didn’t kick-off until 8pm on a Sunday evening. That’s a lot of drinking time to get through before then.

I’ve been to games at Wembley Stadium when it’s been full to capacity – 90,000 seats, all filled. I’ve seen Wembley Way so crowded that it takes you 45+ minutes to get from one end to the other. The crowds at those games were orderly, friendly, a bit of jostling here and there, sure, a bit lairy, and drink had certainly been taken. But there were plenty of police and plenty of stewards who knew what they were doing. But these were rugby crowds. That shouldn’t make a difference, surely? But it seems to.

As a nation, we are better than that. The magnifying mirror of social media doesn’t help matters and much of the attack (for I’ll bet that’s what it felt like if you were there) on Sunday night was planned and orchestrated, probably via WhatsApp. The UK’s bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2030 has probably gone with the wind as of Sunday night. Yet we managed to host a brilliantly successful Rugby World Cup and an Olympic Games, without scenes like we saw on Sunday.

Bearing in mind the apparent transmissibility of the Delta variant of coronavirus, what sort of surge in cases are we likely to see in the next few weeks as a result of Sunday? It doesn’t bear thinking about. So, I won’t. I’m just focusing on the Tokyo Olympics. Come on Team GB!

In the 55 years since June 1966, England has actually won eight World Cups: 1973, 1993, 1994, 2003, 2009, 2014, 2017 and 2019; three were the egg-shaped ball, five were with the small, hard round one and a bat. Oh, and five of them were women’s teams. #Justsaying


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In a world where you can be anything, be more Gareth

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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