Euro 2020 final: Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips is Coming Home - Simon Rix
As a kid I was extremely passionate about England, perhaps obsessing over their progress [or lack of] even more than that of my beloved Leeds United, who were languishing in the middle of Division 2.
Picture a really angry 8 year old cursing Maradona, as he wrote in his ladybird World Cup book, ‘should have been England’ in the blank winners space. 1986 was a great introduction into the harsh reality of a life supporting both Leeds and England Near misses in 1990 and ‘96 came and went but at least they gave us great moments and memorable characters to hold onto in the absence of cups. Gazza, Stuart Pearce, Gareth Southgate….
Fast forward through the Golden Generation, and I’m on my way to France 2016 with my friend, a pre wedding treat. Braving the earliest Eurostar to Paris and the train down to Saint-Etienne to watch England’s last group match against Slovakia.
Alarm bells should have started flashing when there was no beer on any of the French trains, but we pushed on regardless tickets in hand. After a shaky start v Russia, England had beaten Wales and were surely now easing their way to winning the group, up and onwards to Euro glory.
From the off, England’s talent was inexplicably on the bench, England never got going, Adam Lallana was our most creative player but was taken off after 60 minutes, Kane on corners, Roy Hodgson seeming all out of ideas, momentum in that tournament disappeared along with any hopes of glory. As we walked for hours to get back to our hotel i realised my love affair with England was over.
Despite the success in the World Cup in Russia i found myself unable to care as much as i once had about whether Gary Cahill or Ashley Young were good enough for our national team. Plus a certain Marcelo Bielsa’s arrival at Leeds was making watching any other football seem pretty pointless.
And onto the present day, I love England again … but basically I love Kalvin. When the squad was announced, the thought of watching a team with Jack Grealish on the field and Leeds’ main man on the bench filled me with dread.
Fears I’d be scribbling again in my ladybird classic ‘should have been Kalvin’ were allayed after the perfect start in the first game. KP was amazing. Easily man of the match. The secret was out, the Leeds midfielder from Wortley, is undeniably a world class footballer. Michael Ballack says so.
Despite Phillips’ stellar performance there still seemed to be some doubt whether he would play the next game against Scotland, but there he was. And next up against the Czechs. Kalvin has played more minutes than anyone except Pickford. Marcelos training regime, once again coming out on top. After two full seasons Kalvin looks like he could play forever and not look tired. So now. I’m back watching England. Back to being excited. It’s coming home. I’m not tired of it.
The team are breaking the old habits, beating old adversaries. It’s amazing football - but I’m just watching Kalvin, breaking up play, pinging balls about, doing it for Granny Val. In 2020 I needed Leeds to get promoted, for me and for the city, but I wanted us to win the cup for Bielsa.
Right now, I’d like England to win it, undoubtedly, we need a win after 18 months of Covid with Boris in charge, but if I’m honest, I really want them to win it for Kalvin. Then finally he’ll be coming home to Leeds.