Reissue: When football comes home but you don't

One year on from England winning the Euros, here is a revisit of a personal letter about how it felt to not be there. Away from home.

This article first appeared in The Striker on the 1st of August 2022
My earliest memories of football arrive with a tune. Three words. Like the most glorious echo imaginable, they repeat over and over. It’s. Coming. Home.

I am not alone. If anything, I am in tremendous company. Over the past 26 years, Baddiel, Skinner & Lightning Seeds’ ‘Three Lions’ has become synonymous with the English national team. It is a mantra that many in world football have both scoffed at or even sometimes adopted as their own. Who can forget the Italy men’s national team tongue-in-cheek, “It’s coming Rome” at last year’s men’s European championships?
The sentiments of that song are not for everyone. The debate over whether it is an anthem filled with hubris or rose-tinted nostalgia or in fact self-pity is debatable. But I suppose so is the life of an English person.

But that song — oh, that song — it feels like it encapsulates all the emotions and truths of being an English football fan in a bouncy three minutes and 46 seconds. I mean who knew you could clip Alan Hansen talking and seamlessly turn it into a timeless pop song?

Now, after all these years of hurt, football has finally come home. It wasn’t Paul Gascoigne, David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, or Raheem Sterling that made it happen. No, it was the England women’s national team who emphatically won Euro 2022 and answered the call.

23 fearless Lionesses and their manager Sarina Wiegman conquered Europe and crucially beat Germany 2-1 after extra time at Wembley Stadium, in arguably the biggest win for English football since 1966.

While I have been brimming with immense pride and happiness since Sunday afternoon, there has also been a wave of sadness. 87,192 people were there to watch England at Wembley and I wasn’t one of them.

You see, football came home but I didn’t.
England celebrating in Trafalgar Square the morning after winning Euro 2022 | Courtesy of England
There’s a lump in my throat even writing this now because I wanted to be there so badly. If not in Wembley then in any old street across the capital. In fact, in all the old streets.

I wasn’t with my family or loved ones in a living room somewhere in London. I wasn’t even in a sweaty public screening, crammed amongst thousands gagging for a ceremonial throwing of the pints.

I wanted to be embracing strangers and hearing pubs roar. I wanted to witness dreams become reality. I wanted to explode in the stands in disbelief with my siblings. I wanted to hear from my Mum’s friends who have never previously watched England but now want to talk for hours about Alessia Russo’s back heel technique and how Millie Bright could head away a meteor.

As Chloe Kelly scored the most iconic goal in English football history in over half a century, I was 4,264 miles away.
Of course, still, I joyfully shed a tear, uncorked a bottle of champagne, and leaped up and down on my floorboards. England flags strewn over my front windows, past Lionesses kits pinned to my walls. At the final whistle, I cranked up ‘Three Lions’, ‘Free From Desire’, ‘World In Motion', and ‘Sweet Caroline’ on my speakers. I danced and I drank.

Being home for me was never on the cards because I am expecting my first child any day now. This is an extraordinarily happy thing that has me quite nervous while also making me ebullient.

Football fans are a nonsensical breed, but leaving my nine-month pregnant partner for the Euro 2022 final was never something that crossed my mind.

Away from the people that I’d grown up loving football with was not exactly how I had imagined seeing England win a major tournament. But it’s my journey, my idiosyncratic path.

This morning, staring out into the blue-grey sky above my adopted United States, I experienced a mix of emotions.

The grief and acceptance of not being home and watching England triumph. The happiness of dreaming about what is to come. I thought about the future. One day playing ‘Three Lions’ to my about-to-be-born child, showing them the video of Kelly’s mythical toe-poked winner, and explaining to them what that moment when a woman from Ealing twirled her shirt above her head meant to me and an entire generation of English football fans. I have goosebumps again.

The legacy this team created for English football and English women’s football is what is so meaningful. I am bursting with excitement to see what comes next from the next generation of players and fans. Their beautiful game. Their tears. Their late nights. Their dancing around the living room.

As England captain, Leah Williamson aptly said before the final: “This is not the end of a journey but the start of one.”

Football will come home again, and maybe one day I'll be there to bathe in it, too.