Football Never Left Home

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Apart from a few German whistles emerging from the corner of the stadium, Wembley had fallen silent.

A sea of white had greeted the players as they entered the field of play two and a half hours prior, but now the sea was still.

Gareth Southgate stepped up for the 11th spot-kick, and for the first time in the shoot-out Andreas Kopke was equal to it. Unfortunately for England and the millions watching on, David Seaman could not match his Goal-keeping counterpart. Captain Andreas Moller duly dispatching the winning penalty to take Germany through to the Euro ’96 Final and eventual glory over Czech Republic.

The brief Semi-Final re-cap will have brought back many painful memories for England fans, much due to the belief and expectation that England could and would finally lift a trophy after thirty years of hurt. However, the championship brought about much good, not least the Baddiel and Skinner classic that still resonates with all English football fans.

Yet, to reference the song, football never left home.

Fifty years on from the World Cup triumph, English football may have little to show on an international scale, but the three Lions can still be proud of their national game.

In two months time, the Premier League will commence for the 25th time. Teams from Sunderland down to Bournemouth, Swansea across to Hull, will join six teams from London (including Watford), and three from Lancashire. The Olympic Stadium will welcome West Ham United, and Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte, and Walter Mazzarri will manage in England for the first time. Tickets for away fans are to be capped at £30 and a new three-year £5.1 Billion TV deal between Sky and BT will commence.

The annual NFL television deal may still be double that of the Premier League, but the latter has become the second most lucrative sports brand in the world, joint with the NBA.

It is fair to say that English football is a world-power in itself and justifiably commands a world stage and global audience.

However money isn’t everything.

Codified in 1863 by the Football Association, football has roots in China and English football, yet modern day football, as founded in England, now sees over 200 countries play in some form or another. Furthermore, the Premier League is broadcast in 212 territories, 643 million homes, and spans 185,000 hours of television coverage.

Football is English, no matter what others may say.

It may feel at times that England is given a raw deal with UEFA and FIFA, some may even feel that a boycott will warrant respect, but with the Premier League commanding such an audience, our football is now more than a domestic competition.

It is the standard bearer of our beautiful game.

The Premier League and Football League have grown English football and promoted it to every corner of the Earth. Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and now Leicester City have more fans outside of the United Kingdom than from within. The F.A. Cup Final is seen by over half a billion people, whilst upsets such as Bradford City beating Chelsea in 2015 resonate across the world. Sergio Aguero’s last gasp strike in 2012 for Manchester City was watched across continents and Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick in 1995 made headlines in every news outlet.

However every few years English football loans out the beautiful game and vacates the stage for a European or World get-together. And as many of you will know, Friday signals the beginning of Euro 2016.

It will see, for the first time since 1958, four nations competing from the British Isles. Wales, Northern Ireland, England and Republic of Ireland will leave Scotland behind as they travel across the Channel. It is another signifier of the growing strength across the pond; where football means so much more than winning.

2016 is the first year in which Wales and Northern Ireland have qualified for the European Championships and players such as Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Seamus Coleman and Jon Walters will be looking to do more than make up the numbers. Such players further portray the force of English football, having all made careers alongside the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Jan Vertonghen, Mesut Ozil, Dimitri Payet, N’Golo Kante and English football. They may not have been born and raised in the British Isles but would they be where they are today without the Premier League?

Nevertheless, the Euro’s are a time when expectation meets reality. A tournament of local rivalries, underdogs, and false dawns. But England can always feel confident.The competition is effectively halved from that of the World Cup, groups include the likes of Albania and Romania (this had included Georgia until the giant-killing of Spain), and squads often draw on form as well as quality – see Marcus Rashford as a case in point.

Thus success for the English is seen as a trip to the semi-finals and failure only a Chris Smalling slip away. Yet, the tournament is, after all, a showcase of the best European talent on offer. Much like the Premier League, the Euro’s is a time to defy the odds, be hopeful, and dream of a better future. It is a time when the country comes together united under a St. George banner. Proud of who we are and where we come from.

And so it should be with our domestic game.

Irrespective of this Euro ‘16 performance, English football will remain the envy of the world. La Liga may have a monopoly over the European club competitions but we have the world under our spell.

Like a cult movie, or beloved children’s novel, the Premier League makes memories.

Football would not be the global game it is today without the Premier League.

So come on England. 50 years of hurt never stopped me dreaming of a day when the world not only watches what we do but stands and applauds what we have become.