Not since Harry and Meghan opined on Oprah has ITV primetime proved quite so excruciating.
We’d sung the song, never quite believing it would happen again.
Not just 30 years of hurt, but more than half a century of missed opportunities, we could only dare to dream.
And then, after an excruciating 109 minutes, football finally came home … with a penalty.
We’d only gone and done it, our first football final since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966 – and we weren’t even the ones wearing red.
Naturally, England didn’t make it easy viewing, commentator Sam Matterface summing up the agony by simply repeating the words: “Stressful, stressful, stressful,” and asking, not at all rhetorically: “Can England hold their nerve?” More to the point, Sam, can we?
By the time captain Harry Kane had put England 2-1 ahead in extra time, even the usually composed Lee Dixon couldn’t quite hold it together.
England fans celebrate reaching the Euro 2020 final in pictures
Echoing his former Arsenal team-mate Ian Wright’s trademark ebullience, the right-back could only speak in staccato sentences.
“Keep your shape, keep your discipline, see this out, there’s another 15 minutes and football’s coming home,” he spluttered before admitting: “I’m getting carried away with myself.”
The evening had started agreeably enough with a meeting of the Gareth Southgate Appreciation Society, chaired by Mark Pougatch, the Richard Madeley of ITV’s football output.
Even Roy Keane, who was famously sent off for studding Southgate in the stomach during Manchester United’s 1995 FA Cup semi-final replay against Crystal Palace, couldn’t help but agree with fellow pundits Gary Neville and Ian Wright about the England manager’s “quality”.
The Irishman would later channel his inner Father Ted by remarking in half-time that Denmark “hadn’t just come to park the bus” before making the pot/kettle suggestion that England needed to “calm down”.
From penalty pain to final gain, Gareth Southgate has finally slayed the ghosts of that Euro 96 miss
Credit: Frank Augstein – Pool/Getty Images
As the trio spent the duration of an entire football match building the tension with tactical talk and match stats – we were yet again treated to that footage of Southgate missing the penalty in the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany.
Would the mild-mannered father-of-two finally be able to exorcise the demons of England’s tortured past to rewrite its footballing future?
Even Stephen Fry got in on the act, delivering a poetic riff on the “glorious distraction” of sport and its ability to help us to rediscover the “joy, passion, excitement” we lost in the pandemic. “Football doesn’t matter… until it does,” he declared, with characteristic cuddliness.
As the camera panned on the 60,000-strong crowd, resplendent in red and white, David Baddiel and Frank Skinner could be seen cheerily singing along to Three Lions, the anthem of so many dashed football dreams.
With 7,800 Danish fans drowned out by their Anglo-Saxon brethren, Wembley had never seemed to belt out God Save The Queen with more gusto.
How heartening to see each and every player sing the national anthem as the Duke of Cambridge joined in from the stands, Having famously asked after the health of David Beckham’s foot ahead of the 2002 World Cup, there was every chance HM was watching from Windsor Castle.
Fear of failing has stalked England for years. But on Wednesday night, there wasn’t just a sense that they deserved a win – but that they had truly earned it.
As Southgate reminded anxious viewers in the pre-match chat: “The thing you’ve got to remember is we are all England fans.”
And so it was that millions gathered around their TV sets to see if we really could pull it off this time.
Fans watch the game outside the Flying Childers Inn in Stanton in Peak, Derbyshire
We were half an hour in when the first screams of horror rang out across the land with Mikkel Damsgaard’s goal.
Kasper Schmeichel only served to compound the misery with an extraordinary save of Raheem Sterling’s best shot of the match so far. The Manchester City star had clearly had his Weetabix, only rivalled in the Duracell Bunny stakes by Mason Mount.
Having started with the boyish energy of Roy of the Rovers, it was surely only a matter of time before our youthful 11 would find the back of the net. That it came with an own goal, deflected from a cross by A* student-turned-wonder winger Bukayo Saka didn’t seem to matter. With the scoreline back on an even keel, we still had half a chance of wiping Gazza’s tears away.
Delight for Boris and Carrie Johnson at Wembley
With the ping of the half-time kettles matched only by the national cry to bring on Jack Grealish, the second half resumed with the same nerve-jangling response to every free kick, corner and loose ball.
Even the arrival of England’s short-socked talisman, once again playing with headband but no shin pads, wasn’t enough to dampen the deep-seated fear that this was once again going to penalties.
So much for Southgate’s safety first approach, although there was little faulting the impregnability of England’s back four – The Beatles to goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s Brian Epstein.
When the one penalty did come, 13 minutes into extra time, we could barely manage to watch. A deflection and then, back of the net! We were a game away from victory. A game away from rewriting our footballing history.
A game away from glory.