Sadly for England once again football did NOT come home, but for the rest of us, it kind of did. England's loss at home to Italy in the finals of The Euros left The Brits once again title-less in any international competition since winning the 1966 World Cup. In fact their appearance in this year's final was their first since winning it all 55 years ago. But England's loss might have been a gain for all.
The Euros were the fist major international sporting event played since the pandemic rocked the globe in early 2020. Sports gradually returned over the summer and fall of last year, but The Euros felt like the first major event since the hard shut down last spring. And while there were still restrictions in place things SEEMED back to normal. I went to the local England watching bar in my town and with each game as The Brits got closer and closer to that ever elusive title something else came back as well: a common shared experience. You met people with whom you had very little in common except for perhaps a similar rooting interest. You talked to people that, odds are in your regular daily life, you probably wouldn't. You found out things about strangers...and a few friends.. that you probably didn't know. You shared the elation and also the despair of coming so close. That's what sports can do: it can bring together people from disparate places across the planet and connect them. The Euros this summer were as as much of a social experience as they were a sporting event. Watching England lose in penalty kicks to the almighty Azzuri from Italy was painful and peaceful at the same time. It was a reminder that things are getting back to where they hope to be.
As for the Italians, bravo. When the pandemic was at it's worst perhaps no country was hit harder than the boot. Reports coming out of Milan and Northern Italy in the spring of 2020 were terrifying: Doctors in a major 1st world city literally seeing their hospitals over run with patients not being able to take care of them all, literally having to decide who would live and who would die. The Italian spirit in this tournament was remarkable. Very few nations celebrate unabashed joy and unimaginable pain more than Italians. They literally wear their hearts on their sleeves. I'd imagine as a nation they'd make terrible poker players, but they make incredible football players. Italy has and will be a dominant force in soccer, and their passion is what makes them so endearing.
So congratulations to Italy, and once again condolences to England. But for those of us who enjoy the beautiful game, or any game played across nations, we were also winners. The Euros felt like life before the pandemic and perhaps a preview of what life after it will be. Sports can create so much goodwill and kinship and it was just damn nice to be able to experience that again. FORZA ITALIA!!!