It’s time for the three lions to roar again. You don’t have to look too hard to see that England is playing football right now: houses draped in flags, cars flying them, supermarkets packed with tournament details emblazoned across countless drinks and snacks, kids’ faces painted, and decades of football shirts pulled out of the back of the cupboard and worn once more. Many are happier to chat than normal, everyone has an opinion on what formation should be played, and some are even saying those three words that feel so utopian: “It’s coming home.”

After a strong start some people suddenly seem full of something that has been lacking for well over a year: hope. It was Aristotle who said that hope is a waking dream”; it seems that some are daring to dream again. 

I fully fell in love with the beautiful game as a boy way back in the summer of 1990. The World Cup was on, England was doing well, everything about Italy seemed incredible, and to a backing track combination of John Barnes rapping and Nessun dorma, all appeared perfect. That was until a tough West German side gave us a reality check and defeated our team on a dreaded penalty shoot-out in the semi-final. I wept that night as much as Gazza did, felt genuinely heartbroken for the first time in my young life and was properly hooked on the sport. 

The decades since have involved far more pain than joy as numerous penalty shoot-outs, false dawns and challenging circumstances have led to much failure for the England football team.


All of these years of pain have never extinguished the hope that some are starting to hold to right now, a belief that one day things must turn out differently. Many other nations must see our approach to this as odd due to so little success in so long; here people believe that in the end the 55 years of hurt has to finish sometime. 

Whatever these next few weeks hold, I’ve learnt over many bad experiences to not put my faith in the football scores. I love the emotions involved, but it’s just a game. The tragic on-pitch cardiac arrest last weekend of the Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen highlighted this once more. The scenes of grief and pain put all the rest of the tournament into much-needed perspective. The trending on Twitter around praying for him and his family also highlighted that in our moments of pain there are far more important places to place our focus than on football. 

A little closer to home I’ve always been so upset by some of the nasty shadow sides of football that are often more prevalent during international tournaments. The reported increase in cases of domestic abuse is heart-breaking. Research from academics at Lancaster university found that the number of reported cases of domestic abuse rose by 38 per cent when England lost. Racist abuse towards footballers too is utterly unacceptable. Racism has no place in football or indeed in wider society. Betting is also a serious problem that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with robustly. For years tobacco companies were closely connected in a similar way. With hindsight, that now appears crazy, and yet gambling can be just as damaging to people’s lives. I hope and pray that these issues won’t emerge this summer and that people will be able enjoy this beautiful game without suffering from some of the uglier aspects of the industry. 

There is so much more to life than football, and I trust we can all hold on to that this summer. The church is built on a firm foundation of hope. I pray that whatever the scores, we show those around us that, though players come and go, we follow Jesus, the unchanging one. In the midst of all that’s going on around us, we can hold fast to the one who promises to be with us in the storm, to weep with us, laugh with us and, when needed, to carry us through. It’s my relationship with Jesus that’s given me much-needed hope throughout this pandemic.

So much of the origins of football in this country are directly connected to the church. Around a third of all teams to have ever played in the Premier League owe their existence to the church – from Manchester City to Aston Villa, Tottenham to Liverpool. These early adopters of football saw it as a great outlet for fitness, community cohesion and enjoyment. Perhaps we can all learn from this over the next few weeks? 

This tournament is a brilliant opportunity to come together after such a difficult season and to enjoy a summer of football and community. Football can be a great unifier for many, and I hope this will be the case again. Let’s support the team as one, stand with them against racial injustice, celebrate the wonderful generation of footballers we have, and see our communities come closer through it. However, if, and when, the results don’t go our way, let’s see this for what it is. Let’s step back from the game and place our hope in something far more secure, that won’t let us down and remains constant.

So, enjoy the tournament – may it bring about a greater sense of community and togetherness. And, come on England!