It was surprising, over the past month whenever England fans gathered, how many avoided the current iteration of the national team jersey and instead opted for an old number: a blue, often dotted with white, look as a backup and served as a backup. An effort from the early ’90s and the “grey period” of football, when the general argument arose that the color looked good with jeans.
Both shirts carry sad memories: West Germany’s semi-final at the 1990 World Cup and Germany’s semi-final elimination at the European Championship six years later, both on penalties. But the T-shirt is also a proof of recognition, a proof of authenticity, proof that the team participated in the agony of the two defeats that defined the inevitable and yet somehow cherished despair of being an England fan.
Even as the country slowly drifted away – a cliff in the sea – over the past three weeks, as the prospect of only the second major final in unsold history loomed more and more in the popular imagination, few remained in the spirit.
In the depths of the soul, there is an irony to England’s enthusiasm, the awareness that it will all go wrong at some point, hoping for the worst, even as the country hopes for the good, that at some point in the future a new generation of fans will wear this year’s shirt to prove that it is also a victim.
And yet, there is no doubt that the country has the best chance of not only reaching the final but also winning the trophy. It is on the lawn. It is, at least on paper, more than a match for a very well-drilled, impressive Danish team, as it was better equipped than Ukraine and Germany in the previous round. England will also be a favorite in the final against a young and vibrant Italy.
There is the distinct possibility that this enthusiasm will not be ironic, that things will not go wrong. But England doesn’t think so, in fact, it doesn’t. All those years of pain made the country dream, but never really believe.