Kasper Schmeichel, Stuart Dallas, Leeds United connection and why some non-English views of England at Euro 2020 are changing

For the non-English, when it comes to England and Euro 2020 you can be Kasper Schmeichel, Stuart Dallas or a bit of both.

Wednesday, 7th July 2021, 2:45 pm
LEEDS CONNECTION - Northern Irish international Stuart Dallas wants his Leeds United team-mate Kalvin Phillips to win Euro 2020 with England. Pic: Getty

The former Leeds United goalkeeper’s response to a somewhat oddly phrased question about his desire to stop ‘it’ from ‘coming home’ was mild teasing but, of course, it stirred something in the hearts of those who would dearly love to see England fail, as much as it did in the hearts of those desperate to see the Three Lions triumph.

“Has it ever been home? I dunno, have you ever won it?” he asked the English journalist on Denmark’s pre-game press call.

There was a grin on his face because he knew he was being a little mischievous, but the Danish No 1 did go on to make the point that, compared with the thought of what a Euro 2020 triumph would do for his country and his people, breaking English hearts simply isn’t a motivation.

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“To be honest, I haven’t given any thought to what it would mean to stop England, more what it would do for Denmark,” he said.

“I’ve focused very little on the England national team; it doesn’t really mean anything to me. It’s what it would do for our country back home.”

Although the song itself is about clinging on to belief and hope despite the natural pessimism and despair that creeps in after 28 consecutive major tournaments without a trophy, the chorus and that one line ‘it’s coming home’ that has been belted out every four - or five - years since 1996, has come to represent something else in the minds of many outside England, or even those like Schmeichel who live and work here but do not call this their country.

It has become somewhat disassociated with the self-deprecating but optimistic tone with which it was first sung and, when the suggestion is made that it should mean something to England’s opposition, it takes on a different tone, one more associated with Rio Ferdinand’s hubristic declarations or what the Irish, Scottish, Welsh and most others around the world have historically perceived as English arrogance.

The tournament might be partly hosted by England, but it’s not all about England and that had to be running through Schmeichel’s mind as he closed his eyes briefly as that question was formed.

For years at Windsor Park, Northern Ireland fans would give as resounding a rendition of God Save The Queen as any at Wembley, and then cheer if the half-time scores read out on by the stadium announcer revealed England were losing.

It was intensely difficult to like certain England teams and certain English players and, as each major tournament arrived, it was nigh on impossible to avoid the feeling that this country believed it had some divine right to win the thing.

None of that could be said of Gareth Southgate and this England team, however.

Make no mistake, there will be a great proportion of the United Kingdom’s population taking great delight if Ferdinand’s bold prediction falls flat on its face and he’s left crestfallen on Sunday night because it yet again has refused to come home.

But it’s harder to wish misfortune on this England team. They’re different.

Southgate has to take an enormous amount of credit for just how likeable his squad is, because he opened the doors and let the world in to see them in their true light.

The basketball challenges, Bukayo Saka on an inflatable unicorn, sleepy Jack Grealish, Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho’s appreciation for just how special everything is for them right now and, of course Kalvin Phillips, his story and the smile he only wipes off his face at game time.

Access to daily life in the England camp and the personalities inside it, for the supporter, has surely not been so consistent and so fulsome for decades.

By permitting the social media clips, the diary room, the Lion’s Den show and even the darts showdowns with members of the press, Southgate has given everyone the chance to see what his players are really like. They’re likeable. They aren’t the baddies. Maybe, if this approach had been taken years ago, we would all have come to love John Terry and Michael Owen. Maybe.

Add Marcus Rashford’s sideline in delivering results for the nation’s children, Raheem Sterling’s success in the face of unfair media treatment and Southgate’s own redemption story and suddenly it feels like there are more reasons to will England to win than to hope they lose again.

Dallas, who, believe it or not, is Northern Irish, went public with his support for England on Twitter and took some flak for it but, having lived in England for so long and had children born here, he feels a connection to the country.

His team-mate’s presence in Southgate’s dressing room is another very good reason to wish England well. Phillips represents the very best of this country, backed by a loving family and still so tightly tethered to humble roots.

When he or Declan Rice talk to the media, there is no hint of a superiority complex.

As Luka Modric said, if there is English arrogance at play in this tournament, it isn’t being carried by the squad.

In any case, it would be quite something for the city of Leeds, its club and its daily newspaper to boast another English major tournament winner.

So good luck England. Bring it home, then sing a new song.