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1966, 1996, 2021 – three generations of football fans on the joy and despair of watching England

Written by on 08/07/2021

Scores of fans know their relationship with the England men’s team is a rollercoaster ride – the highs and lows draining us of energy yet all part of the thrill of being a supporter. 

Yet, for once in a very long time, suddenly chants of “it’s coming home” seem believable and major tournament silverware is within touching distance.

But for three different generations, there are three different relationships with their adored Three Lions.

Helen has seen England knocked out of numerous competitions
Image: Helen has seen England knocked out of numerous competitions

For those lucky enough to remember the 1966 euphoria at Wembley, every tournament since has been a failure to capture the glory of what once was.

Wendy Godwin is a member of this cohort, and has passed down her love of the beautiful game to her daughter, Helen Shaw.

Helen, however, is a member of another generation of England fans – fans for whom only disappointment has been endured.

Outside a house in west London adorned with a St George’s Cross, like it is for all tournaments, the pair explain their experiences as fans.

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Wendy said: “I always put flags up outside my house, as they are at the moment, and you always expect the best but usually it’s the worst with that terrible deflation afterwards which is quite hard to bear.”

She recalls the particular shock of the fateful 1996 game which Gareth Southgate will be hoping to shake off: “It went deathly quiet, and you never forget that. Then everybody walked down Wembley Way and nobody spoke, it was just silence, it was as though it was a funeral.”

Helen has been an England fan all her life, but has always seen them collapse at final hurdles.

She was in the stands in Bologna watching the team get knocked out in the 1990 World Cup and then, like her mother, in 1996 she was behind the goal as England attempted to get through to the Euros final on penalties.

Helen was there to see Gareth Southgate's heartbreak in 1996. Pic: dpa via Associated Press
Image: Helen was there to see Gareth Southgate’s heartbreak in 1996. Pic: dpa via Associated Press

“At that point I felt like my ego wasn’t quite so lucky for England,” she told Sky News.

This year, however, seems like a rewired team.

“I really can’t quite believe it,” says Helen.

“I just have to try not to get too excited, so I’ve refused to go and watch it with my brother and I’m not going to go watch it in the pub. I have to just watch it quietly and try not to plan anything big as I don’t want to tempt fate.”

But there is a third generation – the younger generation – living in ignorant bliss.

They only see a national team that reached the semi-final of the World Cup in 2018 and now the final of the European Championships.

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The agony and the ecstasy for fans

At Grey Court School, where midfielder Declan Rice was formerly a student, they see the England footballers as top heroes.

Speaking to Sky News, Year 9 student Harris says: “They can definitely go all the way there’s no doubt about it.”

“It’s very inspirational to see Declan, people like Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Pickford, to see how they’ve progressed all the way from club football to England. It’s amazing.”

Fellow student and football team member Ted says: “England have been dominating, I was a bit nervous during the Denmark game but them winning was the best outcome.

“They’re a great squad with great players. They could win it.”

Declan Rice attended Grey Court school in West London
Image: Declan Rice attended Grey Court school in West London
Kids at Grey Court school, where Declan Rice studied, are backing England to win
Image: Kids at Grey Court school, where Declan Rice studied, are backing England to win

At 14 the students can’t help but repeat that famous three words about football returning to its roots.

Their optimism might be unusual but it is infectious.

 Sky News

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