England 2 — Denmark 1 —One game away from history
21st June 2021, I took a massive gamble. I logged on to the UEFA ticketing site in the hope of getting an England Vs Germany ticket for me and Finley. The site had been offline for a few hours, so I was hoping that when it came back at 2PM that there’d be a few tickets for the England Germany game that was the next day.
To my surprise there were Semi Final and Final tickets, I quickly added some Category 2 seats to my bag, and rang up my wife asking what do I do!? This could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Wembley and see England in a Semi-Final, or even, maybe, a Final. The emphasis is of course on could. She agreed, that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, even if England don’t get there (we still had to play Germany and one other team of Ukraine or Sweden), and the chance to see a European Championship semi final and final shouldn’t be missed for me and Finley.
My only regret is that I only had 2 tickets in my bag, I’ll be honest, I rushed and just added them, not really thinking they’d add to my bag (that happened a few times) and then not thinking I’d actually purchase them, but with only 2 tickets it did mean that I wouldn’t be watching it with my Dad. Football is something that we’ve done together for many years, and whenever we go Sunderland, it’s me, my Dad and Finley. I’ve been trying since to get him a ticket, but to no avail.
Having said that, I’ve spoken to my Dad about it since, and he’s fine with it, but it’s still a massive shame and a regret.
So I now had 2 tickets in my bag, and purchased, but we still had to get past Germany and subsequently Ukraine, so I watched those games and was more nervous about those games, as whilst Finley said he doesn’t care who we watch, it would still be special to watch England.
I’m not sure he really understands the years of pain that we have been through with England, being 9 years old (10 on Monday — what a Birthday present Sunday could be), his main experience of England is a World Cup Semi Final in 2018. I have since explained that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, England don’t normally get to the Semi Finals, at least historically.
I won’t go in to too much detail about the Germany and Ukraine games, the important thing is we made it through, and perhaps more importantly, we played well.
So Wednesday came, I couldn’t sleep Tuesday night as I was so excited, how much of that was from watching the Spain/Italy game I’m not sure. Finley woke up and was super excited, but he had to get through school first, I had the morning of work to do, then I was off in the afternoon.
The afternoon came and I had so much nervous energy, I ended up going for a run, doing some chores around the house and then I sat down and just listened to Three Lions on repeat for what seemed like an hour.
We picked Finley up for school, he pretty much ran home got into his England kit and the car was loaded up, and off we set on our travels. The journey there was relatively painless other than missing a turning, which added an extra 15 minutes on to the drive. We got around 2 miles away from Wembley and it said we still had 20 minutes to go! It was on the drive there that Finley said to me “Dad, today is the best day of my life so far, unless England win, then Sunday will be” it was enough to make my heart melt ❤.
We parked up, and made our way, you could sense the atmosphere was growing, we only parked a 5 minute walk away from the stadium, we walked up and immediately started singing together. It made me realise that it’s moments like this that you live for, and even if we didn’t beat Denmark, it would have been money well spent.
The only thing I missed is walking up Wembley Way, as we didn’t really have the time to take it all in, as a result, I’m making sure that come Sunday we’ll get there early to walk down Wembley Way and just take in the atmosphere.
We passed all the Covid test entry, and our tickets worked (which was always a worry for me!), lucky for me I received my Covid passport on the Tuesday before the game, so it was perfect timing! We got Finley a scarf and a program, I think it’s important to have mementos of the occasion as well for him to look back on and remember these things by.
We got to our seats, and were so happy to be there, as were the thousands of other people.
The familiar songs of Sterlings On Fire and Three Lions were playing, so we had a good sing along to that, it felt great to be back in a stadium again. We were sat in our seats and Finley started playing a game on his phone, I said to him “Some advice, just take it all in, try not to just play on your phone, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity” and with that he handed me his phone and agreed. He’s turning in to such a lovely boy.
We went out in to the concourse after about 20 minutes in our seat and it was a lot busier than before. With beer and singing and dancing happening all around. We learnt a new song “Don’t Take Me Home” and now Finely sings it with gusto.
As we made our way back to the seats having spent a fortune on drinks (which subsequently got knocked over!) we sat down and watched the teams train and Finley spent time pointing out all the different flags he saw, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Spurs, West Ham and of course about 5 different Sunderland Flags, one of which was right near us, so we had to go give a customary “Ha’way the Lads” to the people putting it up. I also ended up sitting next to two people with the same hat as me, so that was quite cool, as I had quite the clamour in getting my hat and it arrived Wednesday morning!
The game soon started after the national anthems, and having been urging Finley to learn the anthem, and him not, luckily the words were on the screen so he could still sing along. There was booing of the Danish national anthem, but I’ll teach Finley that we shouldn’t be doing that. What I was most pleased about was the round of applause and cheering that the taking the knee got before the game, I’d even said to Finley we need to cheer when they take the knee as there may be some people booing it, so he turned to me and said that he thought there was going to be booing, I was just glad there wasn’t any.
The game kicked off, and I’m not going to go into too much detail about the game itself, but England started positively, only for Denmark to then score from a set piece which I would have imagined would have been part of their game plan. But England fans soon cheered the team back on, and they equalised through an Own Goal, but they all count. Interestingly that was the 11th own goal of the tournament, which is ridiculously high from previous Euros, and the first free kick scored in the Euros as well, again a long wait for that.
Half time came, and Finley wanted a chocolate bar, but as we went out, we also bumped in to my neighbour, which was strange as Wembley is a pretty big place, and I live in a pretty small road, so thought it’s a funny coincidence. I offered him a lift home, to save him getting the train, as I thought that might be a bit of a nightmare! So we arranged to meet after the game.
We ended up missing the first 10 minutes of the second half as there was a medical emergency, and we couldn’t get back to our seats as they allowed the medical staff to do their thing. As far as I know the man ended up being okay, but still scary stuff.
Anyway, England were unlucky really not to win the game in 90 minutes, but Schmeichel played a blinder, and I was worried if it were to go to penalties that Schmeichel would save more than we’d score, which is always a concern, so it was great to see us go 2–1 up in extra time, and the whole place erupted, and then the anxious wait for VAR to confirm the penalty! VAR has been great this tournament, but it does take something away from the flow and spontaneity of the celebrations. Even against Ukraine I refrained from celebrating one goal purely because I thought it was offside, at least you know if someone is offside then it’s offside.
The atmosphere at this point was amazing, one of the best atmospheres I’ve been involved in. It’s great to see people from different clubs, different backgrounds coming together, uniting to cheer on something for the greater good. Communities are all about people coming together, feeling a part of something bigger, and sport gives so many people the opportunity to instantly be a part of that.
It would be easy to say it was a nervy second half of extra time, but it wasn’t really, Denmark didn’t offer that much, and there was a spell of play where England kept the ball for about 4 minutes, and Denmark just couldn’t get the ball off of them. It was at this point I felt the game was won, and Denmark for all their valour and the journey they’ve been on would be going home.
The final whistle blew, and the first song that people started singing was It’s Coming Home, so of course we joined in, and then the same for what appears to be the anthem of the Euros for England, Sweet Caroline, which is another favourite in the house at the moment!
Anyway, we met up with my neighbour, and ended up spending an hour getting out of the car park, but it was an amazing night. It wasn’t until walking back to the car I realised we now have a really positive Wembley memory, having been here twice before with Sunderland, only to see them lose first on penalties, then in injury time. We didn’t get home until 1.30AM, and we had to wake Finley up for school the next day at 8AM, but it was 100% worth it.
Bring on Sunday, where Finley has his birthday party in the morning, then a trip to Wembley for the final. It’s going to be absolutely amazing. England are doing us proud, every player in that squad is a million miles away from players in the past, there appears to be a real connection to the team, and Gareth Southgate is a massive part of that.
Whether or not it’s coming home, the journey has been immense, and people have made so many memories as a result of it, and ultimately, it’s memories that people will cherish and what makes sport so great. I know that me and Finley have an amazing bond, and football (Sunderland and now England) has played a big part in that.