England party at Wembley after reaching Euros final: 2021’s top ‘I was there’ sporting moments

·3-min read
 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

The first half of my 2021 as a football reporter was spent in empty grounds, often huddled against the cold, eating a sad, socially-distanced packed lunch or straining to hear a post-match press conference over Zoom as the groundsmen revved their lawnmowers.

After the initial weirdness of covering matches behind closed doors, by the turn of the year it had begun to feel normal.

At Tottenham, I got used to the eerie background hum of electricity around the stadium, only punctuated by shouts from the players and dugout, or Darude's Sandstorm when Spurs managed to score.

Admittedly there were perks, like having a parking space as convenient as Daniel Levy's, and it was a privilege to be able to go to games when most couldn't, but overall the experience was bleak and a little numbing.

So the contrast to the return of crowds for last summer's delayed European Championship was especially striking and made being at England's games even more memorable.

England's historic Euros has come to feel tainted by events on and off the pitch during the defeat to Italy and, with all but one of their matches at Wembley, the summer did not have the same feel as covering other major tournaments. Still, for me nothing in 2021 came close to the experiences of reporting on their run to the final.

The win over Denmark was particularly exhilarating, a nerve-shredding 120 minutes followed by unforgettable scenes of joy after England clinched their place in the final.

It is genuinely hard to do justice to the emotion after full-time, when England's players and staff celebrated on the pitch to Sweet Caroline.

The scenes are now a blur but I can remember England's jubilant camp dancing in front of their friends and family, while the ground bubbled with energy around them, supporters savouring the moment.

The Germany game ran it close but the semi-final produced an atmosphere unlike anything the new Wembley had experienced before – and may not again for years.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Working during major tournaments, you can occasionally come to feel as though you're missing the real party elsewhere – this was especially true at the Russia World Cup in 2018 as England reached the semi-final during a glorious UK summer – and reporting on the national team, while always a privilege, can sometimes feel like a thankless task.

But as the country celebrated reaching a first major final in 55 years, Wembley felt like the only place to be.

Being present for England's run to the final would have been memorable in any year but in 2021 it was enhanced because of what came before.

After the suffering and separation of the lockdowns, the tournament felt like a release, the country's reward for endurance as everyone came together behind Gareth Southgate's side.

Notwithstanding what happened at Wembley during the final, being at any of England's matches but particularly the semi-final remains a great 'I was there' moment.

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