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At roughly 21:37 on 11 July 2018, the hearts of a nation simultaneously broke. But while football might not be coming home, "it" definitely has.
Football has been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have always adored the game and the passion I have for my club has always shown me that football provides so much more for a person than just entertainment. But my love for football has always lacked when it came to placing that passion in to my national side. There has always been something missing—a spark, as it were. While I've always watched England play, I have never been so excited to watch our team perform. This World Cup has done something for our nation that has seemed impossible for years now: it has brought a unity that has been so fundamentally missing from our society.
I have never witnessed an England manager have the ability to communicate with their players in the way that Gareth Southgate does, and what's so astounding is he makes this practice look entirely effortless. England won a penalty shootout in the World Cup for the first time—ever. We had the youngest team in the entire tournament and we somehow managed to scramble our way to a semi-final. Most of these lads are boys from working class and diverse backgrounds who have not stumbled their way into success. Instead, they have fought to get to the position they are in and that in itself is admirable.
But performance wasn’t the only thing that enabled this 23-man squad to transcend boundaries and create a new culture surrounding football. It's an unfortunate fact that England is falling apart rapidly but in the midst of moral and political turmoil, the country has found one saving grace. We are united because some bloke from Watford named Gareth had a dream and made us all believe again.
I've seen my best friends who haven't enjoyed football for the entirety of their life turn around and chant "Three Lions" seamlessly. I’ve witnessed strangers hugging each other out of sheer jubilation. I’ve seen cities with the most diverse societies come together as one and celebrate our country as a single entity. People that would never typically communicate in day-to-day life converse in ways unimaginable at times. This World Cup brought about a respected form of nationalism, rather than one that so frequently represents a form of exclusion. The diverse squad created a new identity for "Englishness" and enforced a method of inclusion. I've fallen in love with my sport again. I’ve fallen in love with my country again.
What must also be noted is the fact that all England players donate their match fees to charity—this is nothing new and players have been doing so for generations, but such a fact is so frequently overlooked when people are so consumed with the impact of money on our beautiful game. Our squad is there because there is such a substantial amount of pride to be gained from representing one’s country, and there simply cannot be a price tag attached to that.
The players monopolized on the impact of social media in modern society and used it as a method of communicating with the fans back home that couldn’t make the journey to Russia for what has been the greatest World Cup I have witnessed in my lifetime. They were humorous, appreciative, and loving. They created a distinct atmosphere of unity.
The dream of Russia 2018 may be over but a nation's hope has been restored. See you in four years, when it will be coming home. For now, we'll celebrate regardless. Our boys are coming home.