Like millions of others across England, and the wider UK, I have been gripped by the progress the England team have made during Euro 2020, and now as we approach the final – our first final since that historic 1966 victory – I have been reflecting on why I feel just that bit happier during these major tournaments.
The thrill of the game, the anticipation and the joy of victory obviously plays a part - but it’s more than just that, I feel we really come together as a nation in times like these.
I have loved seeing more and more flags flying from flagpoles, windows, and even cars. I’ve enjoyed the common purpose we’ve all felt on match days, the smiles strangers exchange when someone (usually a member of my team!) is unconsciously whistling ‘Three Lions’. I think times like these make us all closer, and more united, and frankly – happier.
I firmly believe that by embracing our national pride, by flying our flag and singing our songs – by allowing our culture to flow through us more regularly – we can improve our national self-confidence.
This is not an argument to embrace exclusivity or narrow nationalism, on the contrary I believe we would enable people who come to live and contribute to our country to more easily integrate into our society. If our national symbols, our shared history and our values are proudly visible to newcomers, they will find it easier to adopt these as their own.
If our school children can all sing our National Anthem, not only will we will find ourselves more comfortable before kick-off time, but we can ensure –through this very simple act- that any member of the class, regardless of where they were born, can feel a part of our community at a young age.
I’d love to see the flags flying well after Sunday’s final, and I hope the Union Flag joins them too. To me they represent a nation at ease with itself. Each flag fluttering from an upstairs window is saying, this is us, this is who we are. We’re saying we’re proud of our country, our long (and complex) history, our diverse but united people – they’re not just pieces of fabric – they’re the embodiment of our values and of ourselves, and it makes them special.
Many of Gareth Southgate’s England Squad have parents or grandparents who were born overseas, and each will have brought with them bits of culture that will weave into our own in time. Their descendants proudly wear three lions on their shirt, they loudly sing God Save the Queen with pride. What this squad really shows us, is what we can achieve when we welcome others from across the world, and when everyone comes together, knows what is expected of them, and works with unity towards a shared goal (or two!).