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𝘓𝘦𝘦 𝘎𝘢𝘥𝘴𝘣𝘺 𝘉𝘢𝘴𝘢𝘯𝘯𝘢𝘷𝘢𝘳
𝘊𝘩𝘪𝘦𝘧 𝘌𝘯𝘨𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘊𝘰𝘳𝘳𝘦𝘴𝘱𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘯𝘵
𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘩𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘎𝘢𝘥𝘴𝘣𝘺’𝘴 𝘌𝘯𝘨𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘥
𝘧𝘰𝘳 12 𝘺𝘦𝘢𝘳𝘴
In London

𝕊𝕠 𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕪 𝕔𝕒𝕝𝕝𝕖𝕕 𝕒 𝕤𝕖𝕔𝕠𝕟𝕕 𝕥𝕚𝕞𝕖 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕞𝕒𝕟 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕨𝕒𝕤 𝕓𝕝𝕚𝕟𝕕, 𝕒𝕟𝕕 𝕤𝕒𝕚𝕕 𝕦𝕟𝕥𝕠 𝕙𝕚𝕞: 𝕨𝕖 𝕜𝕟𝕠𝕨 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕤 𝕞𝕒𝕟 𝕚𝕤 𝕒 𝕤𝕚𝕟𝕟𝕖𝕣.
ℍ𝕖 𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕣𝕖𝕗𝕠𝕣𝕖 𝕒𝕟𝕤𝕨𝕖𝕣𝕖𝕕, 𝕎𝕙𝕖𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕣 𝕙𝕖 𝕚𝕤 𝕒 𝕤𝕚𝕟𝕟𝕖𝕣, 𝕀 𝕜𝕟𝕠𝕨 𝕟𝕠𝕥: 𝕠𝕟𝕖 𝕥𝕙𝕚𝕟𝕘 𝕀 𝕜𝕟𝕠𝕨, 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕥,
𝕨𝕙𝕖𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕤 𝕀 𝕨𝕒𝕤 𝕓𝕝𝕚𝕟𝕕, 𝕟𝕠𝕨 𝕀 𝕔𝕒𝕟 𝕤𝕖𝕖.

I started Gadsby’s England in the darkest of days. After being an England correspondent for CSRN Radio in Los Angeles, a role I sort of fell accidentally into 2006 at the World Cup in Germany, in 2008, the network offered me my own little time slot to do my own show. I called it 𝘖𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘵𝘰 𝘌𝘯𝘨𝘭𝘢𝘯𝘥, a name I never really took to, before changing it.

Go back to 2006-2008: the Golden Generation, predicted by many to go all the way in Germany, had flopped, and then, plummeted to a new low with England failing to qualify for EURO 2008. A hell of a time to launch “the only show in the world dedicated exclusively to the England football team”, and into a primarily ex-pat market in the US.

I might as well have started the only show in the world dedicated exclusively to tooth extraction without anesthetic; that was pretty much how the general public felt about watching England then. Yet the long-suffering England fans still continued to return to the dentist’s chair. (No, not that dentist’s chair.)

I pressed on because I was one of them, part of a mad group of people who would follow England to the gates of Hell (and were often on the driveway leading to them) for some bizarre, totally irrational reason. Which I cannot explain today, nor probably ever can.

But follow England we did. I’d like to think I saw the show as an opportunity to combine being an England fan with my career in the entertainment business, but perhaps in a strange way it was a kind of therapy; better to talk about the trauma, express the grief, than bottle it up, especially with others who endured the same suffering. It helped cushion the misery of believing–no, knowing–that England would never come close to winning anything. And as long as we stayed within those parameters, why shouldn’t Gadsby’s England have its place?

In the meantime, Germany and Spain, the latter the only other major footballing nation with whom we could share our abject underachievement, said enough is enough. A revolution followed. Focusing intensively on grass roots, reinventing coaching systems, identifying and then nurturing outstanding young players–keeping them together at each increasing age level of the national team, and all done so with formidable organization and discipline.

The result: for Spain, two European championships with a World Cup sandwiched in between, their team acclaimed by many as the greatest football team ever assembled.

For Germany, semifinalists at minimum in every major tournament from 2006 to 2016, the pinnacle being the first European team to win the World Cup in South America, which included a staggering 7-1 demolition of hosts Brazil in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup.

England over this period? Drab, disorganized and dull, badly managed, playing with doubt and fear in every major tournament. Absent from EURO 2008, thrashed by Germany in the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup, outclassed by Italy and beaten on penalties at EURO 2012, out in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, and then 2016…the Icelandic horror.

There was just an acceptance that it would never, ever, ever change.

But there were a few caveats, and I’d bring them up on the show (if nothing else just to report a semblance of a pulse in English football): a glimmer of light coming from the midlands of the country, far from any city or major town, barely A-road accessible. It was called St. George’s Park. Drops of sunshine around the nation as some club academies began to think of England, in one case– Chelsea–by necessity.

A young crop of players developing pure footballing skills. A young coach, former England player, sadly best-remembered for a penalty miss in 1996, working in an original and well-organized setup developing player and game management skills. All hungry to learn, all away from the chaos of England’s tournament ordeal. 

It was all hiding in plain sight. But why would we look when our eyes were being subjected to the absurdity of Harry Kane taking corners?

We’re looking now. We’re looking with magical fairy dust sparkling in front of our eyes, the other side of which is an England team that has reached the final of the European Championships. There, I said it–I just wanted to build up to it. The promised land we dared to dream of before, dismissing it as a hallucination…we’ve made it. We are about to experience a major tournament final with England in it. With England in it. We are about to watch the biggest match in English football since…that year we may now just be able to let go of a little bit.

Those young players, their brilliance now on the world stage, one hurdle from greatness, passing and dribbling their way into a world where statues of them are placed outside their old school, in the centre of the towns they grew up in, in the middle of the park where they used to kick a ball around. And the manager? Well, we may not be far away from ditching Trafalgar for Southgate Square.

Gadsby’s England: the only show in the world dedicated to the England football team. I was laughed at, mocked, pitied. Finally, the England football team have given my little network the last laugh.

A 12-year test…did I pass?

Even if England do fall short, the new reality stands. Winning on penalties, beating Germany, reaching a final; Southgate’s England have dusted off the past in every way and will surely go on to great things–this team is just too good not to. From top to bottom, side to side, pitch to bench, spearheaded by the two magnificent and majestic Londoners. What an unusual pair, a gorgeous anti-symmetrical contrast in appearance, in size, in colour, but identical in greatness. Harry, Raheem, you represent everything good about our country and your names will be woven into its fabric for the ages.

And, of course, if England win…

I’m sure all of you reading this can take it from there.

Thank you, Gareth. Thank you, England team, for painting a Wembley arch rainbow across the grey English skies. Now a chance to leave it shining forever.