The city of Liverpool has long had a rather apathetic relationship when it comes to the England national team.
Everton or Liverpool, it matters not. Supporters are Scouse, not English and understandably so when you consider the differences between the identity of Liverpool and the rest of England.
Historically an immigrant city, welcoming to all visitors, they are the polar opposite of nationalist Brexit Britain.
For decades, Scousers have been mocked on television and media, while they been left isolated from the United Kingdom’s governing rule since Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative leadership in the eighties, when she was urged not to ‘waste’ public money on the ‘stony ground’ of Merseyside following the Toxteth riots.
Then when you consider the barrage of terrace abuse that has rained down on both Liverpool clubs for three decades now, labelling them ‘victims’ for fighting for justice following the Hillsborough disaster and intertwined with chants about unemployment and benefits.
It is so much more than simply spending 11 months of the year hating the Manchester Uniteds and Chelseas of this world, then struggling to get behind their players who you repeatedly long to fail in that final month when on international duty.
When you’re continually at loggerheads with the people inflicting such abuse, how can you be expected to stand as brothers behind a national team where the bulk of support stems from such a contrasting standpoint.
Be it historical, political, cultural, or social, this is not what the city of Liverpool stands for.
But Gareth Southgate has seemingly helped turn the tide somewhat, on the pitch at least, since taking over as England manager in 2016.
While his Three Lions’ squad for Euro 2020 boasted just one Scouser in Wolves’ Conor Coady, who failed to make an appearance, and Liverpool and Everton representation was minimal compared to their Manchester and Chelsea counterparts, this was still a side supporters could get behind.
It didn’t matter that the Reds’ sole representative, Jordan Henderson, was limited to just a substitute and one half of Everton’s England contingent, Dominic Calvert-Lewin was afforded little more than a cheerleading role, Southgate has still developed a young, exciting and, dare I say it, likeable squad that unites fanbases rather than divides them.
Of course, some tribalism still remains. Be it Liverpool or Everton fans pushing Henderson and Calvert-Lewin’s cause, to Aston Villa, Leeds United and West Ham supporters campaigning for Jack Grealish, Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice.
Any difference of opinion is met by abuse, but that’s football. The only difference being such clashes, tainted with extra toxicity, are against those you stand against at club-level rather than your fellow Reds and Blues supporters.
Yet, as the Three Lions reached their first major final since 1966, going one better than their semi-final appearances at the 2018 World Cup and 2019 UEFA Nations League, even those on Merseyside were watching and cheering.
After all, this is an England team you can be proud of regardless of your allegiance.
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Reds are proud to see Henderson fight back from injury to be the experienced head in Southgate’s squad, having been one of this country’s best role models both on and off the pitch in recent years, while Blues are proud of Jordan Pickford ’s incredible international displays and the season that Calvert-Lewin enjoyed to force his way into the reckoning in the first place.
But it goes beyond Merseyside with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford the perfect example, having gone head to head with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to provide free school meals for underprivileged children and provided so much for charity during the coronavirus pandemic.
You can be proud of Luke Shaw from fighting back from a horrific broken leg to enjoy the tournament of his life, of Jack Grealish for claiming his place as the latest fans’ darling or of the likes of Tyrone Mings and Coady for climbing up the Football League to cement their place in this England squad.
You can be proud of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips for holding their own against the Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Marco Verattis of this world and in Jude Bellingham for, albeit only briefly, becoming the youngest ever player to appear at the European Championships.
And you can be proud of 19-year-old Bukayo Saka for dazzling for England throughout the tournament when they needed him most and for having the balls to take the most high-profile of penalties.
Every player in this Three Lions squad has their own story and their own journey and despite falling at the final hurdle, it is something every single one of us, no matter what club we support, can sit back and admire.
Of course, it will take more than positive performances on the pitch to repair such a fractured relationship. And scenes off the pitch will do little to change the tide.
This past month at Euro 2020, we have seen the best and worst of football. And that isn’t exclusive to England.
We’ve witnessed the horrors of Christian Eriksen’s shock collapse for Denmark, adjoined with the tear-jerking scenes of Simon Kjaer, Kasper Schmeichel and the rest of their squad helping to save his life, comfort his wife and protect their friend and team-mate from intrusive cameras before embarking on an incredible run all the way to the semi-finals.
We’ve witnessed famous wins for Finland and memorable goals for minnows North Macedonia as they made their tournament debuts and some truly memorable, goal-laden matches that will live long in the memory.
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From Netherlands and Sweden’s 3-2 victories over Ukraine and Poland to Spain’s 5-3 win AET over Croatia and France’s penalty shootout loss to Switzerland after a rollercoaster 3-3 draw.
From Hungary going toe-to-toe with the continent’s biggest names in front of a packed 60,000 stadium to, potentially, Cristiano Ronaldo’s final European Championships hurrah.
And then, of course, England silencing the Germans and uniting a nation behind them as they dreamed of bringing football home.
UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin might believe this pan-European Championships has not been a success due to excessive travelling and the constraints of the pandemic but, after 18 months without fans inside stadiums, UEFA got exactly what they desired.
The Euros might not have come to the streets of Dublin or to Notre-Dame but this was the tournament we were waiting for, as fans were welcomed back into stadiums across the continent and we granted a celebration of European Football in Amsterdam, Baku, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, London, Munich, Rome, Seville and St-Petersburg.
It has been a great tournament full of great moments, so it is saddening that Euro 2020 ends on a dark note.
Budapest might have been packed for their group games, their choice of chants and banners was abhorrent, while the contrasting message across the tournament to players taking the knee and supporter reaction to such a statement, along with booing of national anthems, was equally despicable.
But the scenes both before and after the Euro 2020 final were, quite frankly, disgusting.
Drunken fights on Wembley Way as ticketless ‘fans’ stormed the stadium, injuring stewards and terrifying supporters in a desperate attempt to make it inside and then the disgusting abuse that Rashford, Saka and Jadon Sancho have been subjected to online since their respective penalties misses, with the former’s mural even being defaced.
What makes it even sadder is none of it was a surprise.
This is the reason for ‘Scouse, not English’. These are not the actions of people the citizens of Liverpool wish to be aligned with.
How can supporters unite behind a side with pride when some neanderthals carry out such selfish, backward behaviour in the name of England?
This England team is not the problem. They are a squad you can be proud of and what they want to represent.
So what if Rashford, Sancho and Saka missed? So what if they play for rival sides? They have all done English football proud and made history making it to the Euros final in the first place.
They will never walk alone.
The issue is the ignorant hooligans who ruin it for the rest of us, carrying out such actions and using England’s name for what they want it to represent. This is Brexit Britain.
Of course, Liverpool are no strangers to such controversy on big European away days, most recently for the Champions League final in Athens in 2007, but that was partly down to UEFA’s own lacklustre running of the event.
This time it was pure supporter selfishness and dangerous idiocy, acting with pure disregard to the safety of fellow fans and security staff, dishing out proof that the dark ages that tar the beautiful game, that we had long since tried to forget, are all very much still present in the here and now.
Is it any wonder the rest of Europe celebrated gleefully as the Three Lions fell short in their efforts to win the Euros, taking great joy in the fact that ‘Football’s coming Rome’?
Yet, for a glorious month during this pan-European Championships, football did come home to Wembley and for the majority it was an occasion to be celebrated.
Until the barbaric actions that greeted Sunday’s final, only damaging further England’s already fractured relationship with the rest of the continent.
After the toughest 18 months of our lives, where we’ve all been locked away from our loved ones and lost good people along the way, this UEFA celebration had the potential to unite the people.
After all, Eriksen’s shocking collapse and merciful recovery was a timely reminder that little else should matter.
But instead, the curtain has been raised and we’ve been gifted a foul look at the issues that continue to dominate society.
No fanbase is innocent in this. While there is such hatred in the world, we can all ask ourselves, have we done enough today to simply be kind?
Liverpool might stand isolated but perhaps the answer is to truly unite and educate those they disenfranchise from. Society can turn a blind eye no longer.
To be blunt, all we can do now is do better.