Why do you support your football team? The first is unconditional love, maintaining a family tradition. The bond is formed with innocence at childhood but, the older you get, you know the bad times will outweigh the good.
More often than not, you will always have the knowledge that the biggest contests â those days when Premier League titles are won and those nights when legends emerge in the Champions League â will take place without you having an emotional involvement.
The dream that one day you will get a chance to celebrate a piece of silverware never leaves you but the reality in England, given the way the footballing world has changed over the last decade, is that unless you support one of the superpowers those days will remain out of reach.
England manager Gareth Southgate has moulded a team that has enabled a country to dream
England lost the Euro 2020 final 3-2 on penalties to Italy at Wembley on Sunday evening
That thought came to mind on arrival at Wembley Park tube station, five hours before England’s biggest game since 1966. Straight away, the banners were in front of you, screaming out why this was so important and what was a stake.
We use the phrase ‘once in a lifetime’ too much but here, genuinely, was such an occasion to define those words. For the followers of Sutton United and Wycombe Wanderers, for those with allegiances to Grimsby, Norwich and Ipswich when will they next get to attend a showpiece contest?
It was the same inside the stadium. Decorating the top tier were countless Crosses of St George from different parts of the land: Portsmouth, Nottingham, Southampton, Bradford, Barnsley, Derby, even one bearing the name of Bury FC, the proud club who paid the ultimate price for shameful financial mismanagement.
They were here, standing united, because Gareth Southgate has moulded a team that has enabled a country to dream and pieced together a squad with whom the individuals are easy to identify and relate to; there are no suspicions about this group, no doubts over their commitments.
Remember the days when games at Wembley would see those in white being booed by their own fans? Wayne Rooney had it; Ashley Cole likewise. Frank Lampard and John Terry would never have been universally popular thanks to the club they played for, ditto Steven Gerrard.
Southgate consoles Jadon Sancho, brought on at the end to take penalty but who missed
But tens of thousands decamped to London because they knew they were going to watch a team that they could get behind in the same way they follow their club. These were the players who they were investing in to make their dreams come true, men with whom they had genuine affinity.
Go back to those banners again: Hull? Harry Maguire served them with great dedication before moving to Leicester. Portsmouth and Derby? Mason Mount was born in the first named city and came of age with a crucial loan spell in the second. Barnsley? The home of John Stones.
Bury? Kieran Trippier’s birthplace. Southampton? The club that put Luke Shaw on the map. Norwich? Harry Kane, captain of this team, had a three-game loan spell there when he wasn’t even in contention to play for England’s Under-21s.
Look at all those connections, pulling everyone together. Some, such as Stones and Mount, have gone on to win the biggest prizes with their current clubs but for many more this was the first â and, potentially, the last â chance to shoot for the stars.
Southgate will have known that better than anyone. He captained Middlesbrough on the day they ended a 128-year wait for a trophy, in the 2004 League Cup. These are moments that must be seized. You cannot assume for a moment that they will keep coming around.
The World Cup in 2022? Yes, England will be amongst the favourites but France, the reigning champions, were favourite for this tournament but were sent packing through the lottery of a penalty shootout. Again, the point needs to be stressed: this was a once in a lifetime game.
For large parts, England played as if their lives depended on it. The first 30 minutes, given the magnitude of the occasion, was as good as they have played on Southgate’s watch: tactically excellent, courageous and bursting with energy.
Bukayo Saka watches his penalty be saved by Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma
The crowd responded in kind. It was always going to be a partisan atmosphere but it didn’t feel like an international, it had the intensity you would associate with Anfield or Old Trafford on a European night and bedlam arrived when Shaw’s rasping volley flew beyond Gianluigi Donnarumma.
This was the moment, the one everyone dreamed might arrive, the tantalising possibility that all those days when you have lamented losing at home to the team who are bottom or cursed them for being the victim of a giant-killing in a cup would all be worthwhile.
True to form, England ensured you ran the gamut of emotions from there in on, the sickening nerves that only bubble away when you want something so badly. And how everyone wanted this, the opportunity to celebrate and party and feel like all your dreams have come true.
But then came the ending, that wretched ending. England didn’t deserve for this story to finish this way, with terrific young men Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka failing from 12 yards. Their heartbreak will be shared. That’s what happens when you are in it together.