So, the English made it all the way to the final of the Euro championships and then…heartbreak…again. How strange sports combat is. Almost unwatchable at the end. This gladiatorial battle spent over 2 hours of tactical maneuvering with two breaks in between and it came down to 12 yards. The distance between a penalty spot and the goal. And there it was. 60,000 fanatical fans, all cheering England on against the enemy Italians. A penalty shoot out. 12 yards. A towering goalkeeper in the Italian net who was 6ft 7, moving along the goal line intimidating the penalty shooters. It all came down to the this. 32 teams, all reduced to two teams on an English summer night, and certainty that one team would win and one would lose. The penalty shoot out. As glorious an event as sports can provide. A shooter, a goalkeeper and a referee with a whistle. And the sounds of the masses resonating around the stadium and anguish and nerves and breathtaking tension filling the evening air. Inevitably England’s long torturous journey from the distant 1966 England victory against the dreaded Germans, would come back to Wembley for redemption. This time. The team was better. The Italians weaker. The English scored after 2 minutes. England would be assured of victory and an end to the curse that showed no mercy for 55 years! Ignominy against Iceland, heartache against Spain. Prince William, Boris Johnston, David Beckham all there to celebrate the victory that was assured. The Queen sending a message of good luck. The Queen. Even she had become interested! She likes horse racing and ascot and maybe rugby but not this sport of the common man. Surely, we were assured now! This was England. The cup was coming home. Brexit was worth it, we didn’t need those dastardly Europeans. We had survived Covid. We would walk once more with dignity down Wembley Way as champions, if not of the world, of Europe. Teach those Europeans a thing or two about decency.
And then. It happened. The equalizer.
And then the penalty shoot out. Last minute substitutions were made to put our best foot forward. But the goalkeeper had a reach unimaginably long. The guy was from Naples. How did they breed them so tall there! And in one second, the hopes and dreams of a nation were gone. 55 years would no longer be the number of lost opportunities. We had lost the moment. Just at the very end. 12 yards. Indecision. Nerves. And suddenly it was gone. Rome celebrated. The Italians were the winners. 12 yards. Fans barely able to watch. Torment, tears, a long journey home on the Underground.
The World Cup will come around shortly and we will try once more but never will that cup feel so close as it did on that fateful evening at Wembley. 12 yards.