Passion and pride driving England in Euro 2020 - Laura Collins, YEP Editor

I will always remember the pain and heartache of the year that was 1996.

Monday, 5th July 2021, 4:45 am
Gareth Southgate’s young Lions have lifted the entire country Pic: Marco Iacobucci/PA Wire
Gareth Southgate’s young Lions have lifted the entire country Pic: Marco Iacobucci/PA Wire

It was a moment that remains forever etched in my mind as I ate my tea that evening with my mum and dad.

Newsround came on the television and the words that were broadcast into our dining room would haunt my childhood.

Gary Barlow alongside his Take That band mates made the crushing announcement that they were going to split.

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It was my first heartbreak as a youngster and I wasn’t on my own - millions of fans across the globe shared in the heartache. Would anything ever fill the void they left behind?

The pencil tins, posters and memorabilia were consigned to the drawer while I listened to Everything Changes on repeat on my Walkman that night.

Thankfully the Euros came to the rescue as we clung to the football that year - and as a nation we collectively dared to dream.

Our school playground was filled with football cards as we all looked to complete our collections with trade-offs.

The beautiful game had this unique power to unite the country in a way like never before.

It emulated through the generations as we watched our parents jump up and down in excitement at the television.

As a country we came together to cheer on the Three Lions in the hope that they could seal a victory - sadly it wasn’t meant to be.

Another blow for the year.

And for the subsequent tournaments that have followed after that our nation has continued to dare to dream every single time.

The same old question crops up every time, too; could this be the year?

Let’s face it we all become armchair pundits and claim we know better than anybody when it comes to the big reveal of the team line-up.

And I’m sure it will have come as no surprise to any of us to see Leeds’ very own Kalvin Phillips in the squad this year.

The sense of pride in our city for one of our own is palpable.

We’ve seen the Kalvin flags flying high and even the owner of the Aire Bar, which is next to the striking mural of Kalvin, blows it a kiss every night when he leaves the neighbouring business.

He’s Leeds and we’re proud of it!

And that sense of pride doesn’t just stop in our city.

Up and down the country we have seen jubilant scenes of people coming together to celebrate the passion and glory of the beautiful game.

And this is what we have all needed after the torrid year-and-a-half we’ve all endured.

We’ve all longed for something to unite us in a way that has also given us so much entertainment.

The reality is - whether you like football or not - that Gareth Southgate’s young Lions have lifted the entire country.

And that really is where the magic of the sport lies.

Football has the unique ability to sweep you along through the highs and the lows as we join together.

It inspires, it entertains and ultimately it has the power to evoke the emotions as a collective.

And now we’re all pinning our hopes that we can finally banish the ghost of 1996 and make this the year that football really does come home once and for all.

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