Something is brewing in England right now. Yes, we’re all looking forward to a first major men’s final in 55 years, and yes, we’re all desperate to take that one final leap towards immortality. But something else is happening – and it’s wonderful.

On June 23rd 2016, England (and the UK), decided it had had enough of “being told what to do” by the rest of Europe, so packed it’s bags and left. Just four days later, the England men’s team also decided it had had enough of Europe and was embarrassingly packed off by Iceland in the last 16 at Euro 2016. It was the lowest point in English football history, and between the two events the country’s reputation as a world leader was shot to pieces.

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In the five years since though, everything has changed – in the football at least. Where our leaders in Westminster continue to stoke division, Gareth Southgate has united the most diverse, intelligent and grounded group of England players in living memory.

And the man himself? Gary Neville summed it up best following the semi-final victory over Denmark: “The standard of leaders in this country in the last couple of years has been poor. Looking at that man there [Southgate], it’s everything a leader should be – respectful, humble, tell[s] the truth, genuine. He’s fantastic, Gareth Southgate, he really is unbelievable.”

Over the years much has been made of the role models footballers could or should be. Drunken brawls, late night escapades, alleged racism. The pressure piled on footballers to fulfil this role in the past was perhaps unfair and unwanted, but with Southgate’s team it’s different – they really are role models. They’re the best of us.

Player of the tournament Raheem Sterling is the flag bearer for combatting racism in this country. How he must be laughing at the same tabloid newspapers who now hail him a hero following years of uneasy abuse. Marcus Rashford continues to admirably campaign against child food poverty. Captain Harry Kane was seen supporting Pride Month throughout June with his rainbow flag armband. Jordan Henderson spoke out in support of non-binary England fan Joseph White who attended their first ever game at Wembley wearing full make-up for the win over Germany. The Liverpool captain tweeted: “No one should be afraid to go and support their club or country because football is for everyone no matter what.”

Where others have stopped or just refused, the team has continued to take the knee in support of Black Lives Matters throughout the tournament. This was in spite of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel calling it “gesture politics” and telling fans they have a right to boo those who take a knee. The pair were then seen shamelessly wearing an England shirt for the Denmark game. Neville’s remarks about being “genuine” and “respectful” particularly pertinent here.

This really is an England team and squad for the ages. They’re living proof that more unites us than divides us, that we’re better together than apart.

The five-year journey from that embarrassing night in Nice to this weekend’s final against Italy, via a World Cup semi-final in 2018, has been transformative. Southgate has ridden the England squad of the celebrity culture that encapsulated it for so long. Players speak about the togetherness in the squad being akin to a club culture – something rarely seen on the international stage. There is no ego, no individual agenda; just a group of young men doing themselves and their country proud.

In a way, whatever the result on Sunday England have already won. Taking cue from their measured leader, this group of players is everything this country could and should be. Perhaps in a way it already is. Bring it home, boys!