Football ultimately might not have come home in the way we had hoped it would, but for 60,000 fans inside Wembley Stadium on Sunday the occasion was still massive – England’s first major final in 55 years.

Part of that crowd was UCFB’s Neil Silver, who has painstakingly relived the experience for us here….

I’ll never forget the sights, the sounds, the smells, the colours… and of course the utter despair.

As one of the very lucky 60,000 fans able to attend the Euro 2020 final I rode a rollercoaster of emotions – and I have to confess that I am scared of rollercoasters! But I wouldn’t have swapped this journey for anything – because we came oh so close to making history.

Let me start by telling you that I am no stranger to the big sporting occasion. I have been lucky, because before embarking on a career in education I travelled the world as a sports writer for various national newspapers and agencies.

YouTube video

I was there in 2002 following the Republic of Ireland at the Japan and Korea World Cup finals – the one when Roy Keane got sent home; and I was there in 2004 at the Athens Olympics – the one when Kelly Holmes won double gold in middle distance races. I’ve also covered FA Cup finals, The Open golf, the Ryder Cup, Wimbledon tennis, and even World Darts finals.

So this was different, as I travelled to Wembley as a FAN, not a journalist, after securing a ticket at the last-minute. I was in nappies the last time England were in a major final, 55 years ago, but now I was there and feeling proud.

And I believed. I really did. After our route to the final, and the way Gareth Southgate and the boys had lifted the nation, why shouldn’t we go all the way and lift the trophy? I believed in Harry Kane and the boys, as they had certainly grown in stature and confidence from the first kick a month earlier. And although I felt that Italy had been the best team so far, I also felt they were there for the taking.

UCFB's Neil Silver before the EURO 2020 final at Wembley Stadium.

As I said, I have been to big events with thousands of spectators, and I am used to the comings and goings around Wembley, as that is my base for UCFB, but even I was stunned by the tens of thousands of supporters around the stadium – I could hardly move.

After inching my way through the Covid and ticket checks, I made my way to my seat in the section above one of the corner flags in the England end. It was a good seat, and I looked down on the goal in front of me hoping I might see an England winner banged into the net a couple of hours later.

Everyone was smiling – nervous excitement I think. Young, old, families, and people on their own like me, all as one for the day and thanking our lucky stars that we were there in the hope of witnessing history. They were tying up their flags and banners to the railings, declaring their allegiance to clubs far and wide. I saw flags from Oxford, Norwich, Preston and QPR, to name but a few.

They wore England shirts of all colours and varieties. There were the retro red shirts which were a throwback to the 1966 World Cup final, and those grey England shirts worn by Southgate and Co. at Euro ‘96.

The singing started and it was deafening. ‘Three Lions’, ‘Sweet Caroline’, and that naughty Harry Maguire chant, but it was all in good humour.

The line-ups were announced and the loudest cheer went to Captain Kane, followed closely by Raheem Sterling. Then the players came out for the warm-up and the proverbial roof was raised.

As the minutes counted down, we were treated to the closing ceremony, and what a marvellous show they put on. A giant inflatable silver trophy, fireworks, and then the Red Arrows flying overhead. The hairs on the back of my neck couldn’t have stood up any higher.

The closing ceremony took place before game.

It had been a long wait, but before we knew it we were belting out the national anthem. I looked down at Gareth Southgate and imagined how proud he must have been feeling. Was this going to be his final redemption after his penalty miss at those Euro finals a quarter of a century ago?

I was lucky enough to interview Gareth when he came to Wembley as a guest speaker for UCFB students a couple of years ago. He really is a nice man and in my head I said: “Good luck Gareth, you deserve it – and so do the rest of us.”

Time for kick-off. Everyone was standing, so forget about how good your seat was. Nobody sat down for 120 minutes.

Wait a minute. No way! Surely we couldn’t be ahead after only a couple of minutes? We bloody were! We could actually win this thing. Luke Shaw, you beauty.

I usually sit in the press box, and although I am aware of the noise I have never been in the heart of it like I was here. It was unbelievable. What energy. Uplifting. Inspiring. I hope the players knew how hard we were shouting for them. I am sure they did. I for one was hoarse by the end of the night, and drained emotionally and physically.

Sadly, it wasn’t enough. Things never went according to the plan. A second-half Italian equaliser took the final to extra time and then penalties. The rest, as they say, is history.

I didn’t hang around beyond the final penalty kick. I was too devastated. Distraught. So near, yet so far. I saw the fireworks in the sky as I walked to the car, picturing in my head the scene as the Italians were presented with the trophy, and I saw the arch lit up in their national colours of green, white and red.

It didn’t come home. We just weren’t good enough on the night to finish the job, but thank you anyway England for the incredible journey, and let’s hope we have learned enough from the experience to go one better at the next major tournament, the World Cup in Qatar next year.

They think it’s all over. It is Ciao.