All Together Now!

Today’s cycle was fantastic. 104km with over 1100m elevation. The sun was shining, the wind was pleasant and offered little by way of headwind and the roads were relatively empty.

I had made a new route on Strava for todays ride. Having ridden my usual 100km ride numerous times now and knowing every inch of the route, I was seeking a change. And what a great route my new route turned out to be.

For the first time in a long time I was not focussed (or even bothered) about the statistics of the ride. My training programme today was simply ride 100km. Not much more thought was needed. I was therefore able to simply flick onto the maps tab of my Garmin and follow the route.

This gave me 4 hours 9 minutes to just soak in the views, the hills, the descents, the sunshine, the blue skies, the singing birds and the beauty of the Northamptonshire villages which I passed through. Oh, and a burnt out van that had crashed and had closed one of the roads. Luckily the police and fire service let me cycle through. It seemed no one had been injured (miraculously).

Anyway, whilst enjoying the above (not the van bit), my mind was allowed to run off and do whatever it was that it wanted to do. As mentioned, I wasn’t bothered on stats and performance and so my mind was free.

My mind landed on football and the Euro 2021 tournament that started last night, after being postponed for a year as a result of Covid-19. The first game saw Italy take on Turkey.

The game and indeed the preceding ceremony kicked the tournament off in fantastic fashion. Before the game, which was held at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, Andrea Bocelli opened the tournament with a belting and dramatic rendition of the famous Nessun Dorma. All the whilst, fireworks being launched from the roof of the Stadio Olimpico into the Italian sky. What more could you want?

I watched on and found myself in a melancholy mood! This has been a long time coming. I hadn’t realised until this week just how much I was looking forward to the tournament beginning.

Even the football was bought onto the pitch in a tiny VW. Covid Procedure or Marketing? Regardless, the opening night had talking points at every turn. I won’t be providing a match report here. Spoiler: Italy won 3-0 and really put a shot across the bows of other nations who fancy there own chances of Silverware.

Yesterday, whilst on a work call, I was asked ‘What are your hopes for England, Matt? What do think is success?’

In the past my answer may well have been Semi-Finals or Quarter Finals. This time I found myself answering in a different manner.

Before I share my answer though, we must go back. All the way to 1996. I was 6.

In the build up to this years tournament, certainly in this past week, I have found myself thinking back to previous tournaments and thinking back to where I was, what I was doing and who I was with.

Rather conveniently, Mums birthday is tomorrow (13th June), and therefore when I was growing up, there were a lot of parties during these big football tournaments.

1996 – Was the first tournament I have vague memories of. I recall watching the Scotland game. McAllisters penalty miss followed 2 minutes later by Gazza’s delicious flick over Colin Hendry and volley past the desperate Scottish Goalkeeper (Andy Gorman I think but not sure). There’s only one way to celebrate. Dentist Chair. Clearly at the time, I didn’t know what the celebration was about but it didn’t stop me recreating it at Sunday football down the park in the following weeks.

This week I listened to a BBC podcast which was dedicated to this game. It talked about how the first half was generally terrible but at half time, something changed.

The stadium announcer played Status Quo – Rocking All Over the World. From what I can understand the crowd went from regular football supporters watching there team into full party mode. You only need to punch England Scotland 1996 into YouTube to see and hear the atmosphere (if you can’t remember or if you were too young).

It was a party atmosphere that carried over and which we took into may of these tournaments. Handily helped my Mum and her birthday parties.

By the way – I have Rockin’ All Over the World playing as I write this. The next song is Vindaloo (Can I Introduce you please to a lump of Cheddar Cheese?).

1998 – The World Cup was in France. Our primary school let us watch the England games that were on in the afternoon (if we were good I think). The school had set up almost like some elevated seating in the school hall where we all excitedly sat down. Teachers rolled in two tele’s on high legs and put them next to one another. Forget big screen, just put two next to each other!

After some technical issues, the game was on. How great is this? Missing History lessons to watch the England vs Tunisia game with all my pals. Life can’t get any better can it? I think Paul Scholes got a headed goal that game. It was rare to respond to the question ‘What did you do at school today, with ‘Watched the football with the teachers’ Class memories.

At another tournament, possibly 2004, we had loads of people at our house in Coventry. All of my parents friends were over, my friends were over, my brothers friends were over. The house was full.

My overriding memory of this was not the game but in fact, whilst all the ‘adults’ were in the kitchen or out in the garden, all the kids were watching the football in the front room. All the kids and my football manager, Steve. Steve was sat on a chair in the middle of the room surrounded by kids trying to also see the screen. From what I recall, Steve was only bothered about Gareth Barry given his Aston Villa links.

For later tournaments my memories lead me to drinking in my friends parents houses, or gardens, or latterly in the pubs and then the nights out that followed. Apart from Lampard’s disallowed goal against Germany, the football details are a little difficult to recall but what isn’t difficult to recall is the fun and excitement that was had with friends and family. Young and just having fun. Great times.

And so there was my answer to my work colleague yesterday.

So, what are my hopes for England, what is success?

For me, these football tournaments give us a reason to be together. An excuse to invite or visit friends and family. A chance to let the school kids miss lessons and watch the football. Weather dependent, have a BBQ. Hell, if it’s raining have a BBQ. Regardless of the weather, crack open some beers. Enjoy all being together and creating memories that will endure.

‘As long as the team put in a good effort and we can all enjoy the next week or two (hopefully more) watching England with the people that matter most to us, creating more memories then that is good enough for me. If we embrace the anxiety, the nerves, the naive sense of optimism that we all suffer and come together to support the team, I’m good.

I pray the weather stays good, and England do, do well. I hope you can get together with the people you want too. I hope by supporting the lads it helps bring back a load of optimism and positivity into the country. We have missed it in the last 15 months and we have an opportunity to bring it back!

Come on England!

We are all behind you!

All Together Now!

Mum, Happy Birthday for tomorrow!!!!

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