IT 'CAME HOME'
FOR QUARTERLIFERS DESPITE THE ENGLAND THUGS WHO LET THE
By our readers, edited by Emily Parker
England didn't win the Euro 2020 cup on Sunday night, but we did get to the final of a major international tournament for the first time in 55 years. And was the impact of the tournament on our generation bigger than football anyway?
It's Coming Home. Those are the words any nineties or noughties baby grew up hearing every summer surrounding international football tournaments. To some of us those words meant family parties with red-and-white face paint, paddling pools, BBQs and itchy nylon shirts that stuck to us in the heat. They became synonymous with footballing icons like Beckham, Owen, Gerrard and Cole. They lived in the stitching of bucket hats and the zips of bumbags. To others, those words are charged with the violence they have a history of being piggy-backed by. They were at the heart of Euro 2020, in the air all around us and on the lips of fans everywhere, but what do those words actually mean to us now?
'It's Coming Home' was a song by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, performed by The Lightning Seeds, dubbed as the official anthem of Euro 1996 when England hosted.
But it has been our anthem and mantra ever since, and has been rejected by some as a sign of English arrogance around our claim to having invented and therefore owning football. There is undoubtedly an uneasiness to this given England's dark history of colonialism, and particularly given other nations also claim to have had a hand in creating the game as we know it today, amongst them Scotland and China. Plus, regardless of who invented the game, does any one nation need to claim it as their own anyway?
Our beloved national treasure Gareth Southgate has defended the song before, pointing out its tongue-in-cheek lightheartedness and claiming it is an example of “English humour”. He says that, “Unless you’re a fan of Fawlty Towers and stuff like that maybe you don’t get the slant on it.” He has put an emphasis in recent tournaments on his players' responsibility to “represent our country in the right way," especially given, "the rest of the world does sometimes view us in a certain way and feel that we have a sense of entitlement. But," he says, "I can only speak for this group of players and this group of staff – it is not how we work and is not what we believe.”
Clearly any sinister arrogance in the origin of the song has been rejected by the England team we know and love today, so does 'Coming Home' mean something different to us as a nation and as a generation in this new era of football sportsmanship?
'Coming Home' used to be about one thing: the trophy. Undeniably, the success of the England squad continues to be central to the conversation and national mood surrounding the games. The spirit of togetherness and excitement in England saw its biggest spike after we won the semi-final against Denmark and realised we'd all be given the precious gift of seeing history made - watching England in an international final for the first time in 55 years, and on home turf. But the bittersweet sentiment surrounding Sunday night's game and England's loss suggests that, for whatever reason, it all runs a bit deeper than that now.
We asked our readers, in an Instagram poll following our 3-2 defeat by Italy in the dreaded penalty shoot-out, what Euro 2020 has meant to them.
6 in 10 said the tournament had a profound impact on them, and some of our favourite responses are below:
"I have seen history, and at an age and a time I'll really remember it, all thanks to the current England team."
"I feel optimistic about life and facing difficulty for the first time in ages after seeing how well we did."
"I loved seeing the players stand against racism and homophobia, even when tories and fans didn't get behind them."
Together in joy.
"I love how it can bring people together and create such joy for people like nothing else."
A kinder approach.
"It was great seeing how Southgate's kinder style of management paid off versus the 'hard men' of the generation before."
"In the current England team we have mainstream positive role models who can show their emotion and support each other with sensitivity and empathy."
Feeling united (mostly).
"As an ethnic it made me think we are one England after all, until the events of Sunday night."
Footballers doing good.
"It's great seeing the footballers being socially conscious and politically active, actually changing shit and educating idiots, using their platforms in the way we've always wanted footballers to."
"I was surprised by my own excitement - watching the games I think I developed football fever and really felt a part of something."
Positive role models.
"The England team are genuinely nice, progressive, intelligent men and because of the example they set to the next generation coming up behind them I'm proud to support each and every one of them."
Clearly, this tournament has touched a nerve. Perhaps it is a post-Covid thing - the first time being united in a national event since before the traumatic events of the past 18 months was always bound to be special, with or without a history-making performance from our team. Or perhaps it has something to do with attitude; the attitude of our players which then guided the attitude of the vast majority of England fans who have followed Southgate's team's journey peacefully and respectfully throughout the tournament. Or perhaps the fragility of life and the importance of togetherness was brought into sharp relief in Euro 2020 above many other historical tournaments because of the cardiac arrest suffered by Denmark's Christian Eriksen in the middle of the pitch during their first game of the tournament, and the overwhelming response of love and support shown by the Danish fans and his teammates.
'It's Coming Home' embodies the spirit of England's tendency to define its champions solely by their ability or inability to win, but what stands out in the responses we received about the impact of the tournament is that they all speak of the heroic nature of our players while not one of them mentions what colour medal we took home.
And yet a small, but loud minority felt so strongly about taking 'home' first prize above all else that they demonstrated the levels of violence, racism and hate that have gone both seen and unseen over the past few days. Quite apart from being criminal behaviour that should be punished - behaviour that has put a dampener on what has otherwise been the best international tournament England has had since 1966 - this behaviour also appears to miss the point completely. The emotion bound up in those violent displays contains within it an aggressive need for England to win the trophy, as though the result of a penalty shoot-out will be what defines England going forwards, rather than the extent to which we came together and supported each other and our team unconditionally.
For our generation, 'Coming Home', above all, is about coming together as a nation, and the impact football can have beyond trophies, so for us, it Came Home after all. The only thing that spoiled that for millions of joyful spectators and their team of outstanding footballers and role models was the behaviour of the thugs who felt justified in their violence because of their sense of entitlement and outrage at being denied 'Football Coming Home' - the very thing they themselves, ironically, were denying everyone else.
Perhaps, then, it's time we update our collective understanding of that famous line. Perhaps that's what will finally allow us all and the next generation of football fans to look at the beautiful game and all international sport with the nuance and emotional maturity required to feel the full positive impact sport can have on a society, regardless of wins or losses. And perhaps that is something we owe to our players before they can feel truly and completely backed - backed enough to actually win that trophy once and for all. Perhaps the 'it' in 'It's Coming Home' needs to stand for much more than just a piece of engraved metal for the line to convey the full unitive power of football, and the positive role models we can now watch playing it, on not only our generation, but on the entire nation.
Or perhaps we need a new line altogether.
Image by @mpmvp