The riotous joy that erupted after England’s 2-1 victory over Denmark in the semi-final of Euro 2020 on Wednesday signified so much more than shared satisfaction in a football win. It hardly matters now what happens on Sunday – well, it does, but not nearly as much as it might have seemed last week. Just to reach the final is almost enough.
The victory over Denmark serves as a kind of marker. It came after a crucial win over Germany and the trouncing of Ukraine, sealing the end of what has been described in the football fraternity as decades of national humiliation – the “55 years of hurt”. It also supplied the most complete antidote to the pandemic to date, unleashing an exuberance contained for the best part of 18 months by draconian restraints on spontaneity in any form. For two hours and more, tens of thousands of people gathered in one place were allowed to sing, hug and kiss with impunity. And for a short space you could stop the traffic, climb on to the top of a double-decker bus and wave a flag without social distancing.
You don’t have to be a football fan, or any kind of sporting aficionado, to appreciate the transformed collective mood. Some of the spoilsports on social media were surely right when they queried the granting of that penalty, and I was ignorant enough to wonder whether scoring from the rebound of a saved penalty was actually OK. But for the moment it is like one of those films that switches in a second from black and white to colour and the whole thing springs to life. What better prelude to “Freedom Day”?
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