Wembley can finally come alive as Gareth Southgate’s England return to the fore

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 07 September 2018, 14:36

THE WEATHER has cooled somewhat and just maybe the feverish excitement which gripped England at the World Cup has too.

Seven weeks on it’s perhaps ok to suggest that really it was a bit of a fluke getting to the semi finals in Russia.

The forthcoming match against Spain, even a Spain riven by internal strife, will be a sterner test than anything faced on the field during the heady days and nights of June and July.

It somehow seems appropriate that England should now be keeping company with the likes of Luis Enrique’s team, which flew into London on Friday ready to step out at a full Wembley.

Even in the baffling new European Nations League the visit of such illustrious opposition in a competitive game makes the start to Gareth Southgate’s time as England boss seem half a lifetime away instead of less than two years.

He started with a 2-0 win over Malta and presided over a routine World Cup qualifying campaign which only really took off when least expected at the finals itself when England always used to fall flat on their faces.

Not just on the pitch but off it too as Southgate’s dignity, human touch and class shone through and continues to do so, even though the sun is on the wane after a record hot summer in England.

Southgate has made the England manager appeal way beyond the white lines of a football pitch.

Mums love his waistcoats and intelligent speak. Dads of a certain age identify with his upfront attitude which harks back to pre-Premier League times when players lived on posh cul-de-sacs near the fans, not in gated communities.

Not since Glenn Hoddle in the 1990s has the England manager been of such fascination and held in such high esteem - above that of his players.

There’s a good chance England will get spanked - at home - by the Spanish. Despite their own horrendous World Cup campaign blighted by chaos of last minute managerial changes, they are an infinitely more gifted and much more successful bunch than us.

That’s been the case for much of the 21st century though. It’s nothing new. What is a recent development is the dignity and pride attached to the England team, rather than the multi-millionaire prima donnas of old and the inevitable sense of failure amid insecurities at every level.

Southgate’s players will be able to call Wembley ‘home’ now after their spirited World Cup campaign.

For years, the trek to the national stadium in the middle of a light industrial estate was made out of blind loyalty and it was usually sterile and joyless regardless of the result.

Let’s face it, Spain’s shock early exit, along with Argentina, Brazil, Portugal. The absence of Italy and Holland in the first place. It all helped make England look better than they are. But so what?

The task now is to continue the feel-good factor from the Russia campaign. Even if our two countries have resumed political hostilities over the Salisbury poisoning following a summer hiatus.

Don’t expect a dazzling light show of technical wizardry from England, let the Spanish do that. But for the first time since the new Wembley in 2007 there will be an upbeat atmosphere inside the soulless bowl that seats 90,000.

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