A letter to England

Words by Hollie Higgins

This world cup was a freebie – Nothing to lose.
And Gareth Southgate seemed the easy option, didn’t he? The cheap, own-brand, no frills option – Step in until we find someone better.

But Gareth started by laying his cards on the table – And doing something some of the world’s greatest managers couldn’t fathom (I’m looking at you Capello) – He got rid of the Ghosts of England's past. Out went the old heads. Out went the ‘you can’t drop’s. Dropped. Gone. No more old guard.

Instead, Gareth had the courage of his convictions, the strength in character, the belief in himself to take a fresh approach. New, young, exciting players. No experience necessary.

And from the outside looking in, you had one of two reactions. You either sat up in your chair and thought “Right, lets see what these guys can do…” or you slumped down deep in to your seat, another wasted tournament looming, the World waiting for England to wake up.

As things moved forward, and the tournament got closer things started to become apparent. He hadn’t just tossed a coin and hoped for the best. It was all part of the master plan. And with the squad selection, he also he instilled a vital togetherness that we haven’t seen for some time, he brought the players together, not by force, but by understanding.

The players wanted to be a team.

And okay, okay. We all got a bit carried away. I did. I admit it. I thought it was coming home. But I haven’t been as carried away as this since 96, since…. Gareth Southgate.

This journey has even scooped up the football realists.
The realists and the no-hopers.
And the determined we wonters.

We were all on board.

They’ve allowed us to put on our England shirts, hang out England flags. (Something I haven’t done in a very long time) and they’ve allowed us to WANT them to succeed.

This is all truly down to Southgate and this team.

If we want to talk about strength, and maybe not out there, in your face, Psycho screaming from the pit of his belly strength, but strength and power, I point you in the direction of Harry Kane.

15000 Colombians making the amazing, intimidating, closed, breathing down your neck atmosphere that only South Americans can do.
Players scuffing up the penalty spot.
A Colombian shouting in Kane’s face, trying to take the ball off him.
The minutes-seemed-hours it took to get to the penalty kick.
That man must have some cojones. And blood that runs ice cold.
To step up and take the penalty in such an atmosphere without any doubt in his mind. That is strength.

Harry Kane hasn’t been without his critics – I felt during the Iceland game, he and many others were weak, they gave up. But he has grown and it showed.

The penalty save from Pickford.
How strong?
I have never seen a save like it.
His arm doesn’t even quiver as the ball hits it.
It’s like he built a concrete wall in front of the goal.
Not today.
You shall not pass.

Yet amongst all this hype, amongst this whole crazy bubble of the World Cup, the players and particularly the manager have been measured and contemplative. They’ve been bare – We’ve seen more than we’ve seen from previous England teams. And not flashiness or gaudiness, or arrogance. It’s been real. They’ve been classy, and normal, and modest.

The players won as a team. They felt every foul on a team mate, they worked for each other, they looked for each other.

They also lost together. They didn’t look for blame, instead each one blamed themselves, sharing the guilt of the loss. A true team.

But there should be no guilt here. There is only guilt when you had more to give but didn’t.

And lets not be hasty.
Croatia were good. They were strong, they were savvy. We waited for them to tire, but they didn’t. They were experienced. What they did, they made look easy. Perisic was brilliant. Vida read the game perfectly every time. There were plenty of positives for Croatians watching the game. They were no mugs. I wish them all the success in the final, which could be many of the team’s last attempt. Go for it boys, you deserved it.

But what a ride for us. What an experience.
The strength and power in this team is something that lives beyond this World Cup, it’s coming home with the boys next week.
It goes to school in the hearts, beit slightly broken, of all the kids who stayed up bleary eyed to watch every game.
It's in all the brand new love affairs created with the beautiful (heartbreaking) game.
It’s in the houses of people packing up their England flags hoping the next two years flies by..
And next time..
Just maybe next time..


Huge thank you to contributor Hollie Higgins for capturing the pride of the nation so beautifully.