Gareth Southgate has been a knight in shining armour for England’s football fans.

It was a real ‘where were you’ moment.

In 50 years time, if I’m still lucky enough to be here, I’ll (hopefully) remember the night England finally banished all those demons and won a penalty shoot-out at a World Cup.

At the age of 30, I’ve seen more than my fair share of spot-kick heartbreak. 

And I won’t lie, I thought we were going to get more of the same on Tuesday when Colombia snatched an equaliser at the death and eventually forced us to endure sport’s greatest lottery once more.

Thankfully, Gareth Southgate’s young and inexperienced charges held their nerve on a night when they kept their cool in the face of extreme provocation.

I joined a few friends in going absolutely bananas at the Lord Napier in King’s Lynn as Eric Dier slotted home his effort from 12 yards to send the Three Lions into a quarter-final tie against Sweden tomorrow. 

And they’re scenes that I won’t forget – not that I can particularly remember who I embraced for that first 15 to 20-second blur of sheer delight.

The Nap is a great setting for anyone looking to take in the last-eight match as part of a crowd. There’s screens outside and inside a pub that was full of atmosphere, passion and, eventually, sheer pandemonium.

But to be fair it doesn’t matter where you take in this weekend’s clash as we’ll all be together. It’s why I love football. 

Nothing brings the country together like England at a major tournament. 

And given all of the pain and agony we’ve suffered, nothing gets enjoyed quite like our boys doing the business.

We might not go on to win the World Cup, we probably won’t, but for the first time in 10 to 12 years I feel happy about our national side. We have a team to be proud of who are giving their all and enjoying pulling on their national shirt. It’s brought the country together at a time when Brexit and politics threatened to divide it.

And, as someone who travelled to South Africa to watch the Three Lions in 2010, only to witness four dreadful performances live, I couldn’t be happier. I don’t feel down, cheated or frustrated by our golden generation who were weighed down by expectancy but also poorly managed.

I just feel upbeat, patriotic and full of hope that our players can end our wait to be successful. They’ve already spared us the embarrassment of crashing out in a group stage or against minnows.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, beats coming together and cheering on England. It’s great in all sports. Yet it’s not quite the same as it is for football.

Packed pubs, manic celebrations, drama, pain and beers aplenty. You get it all with the Three Lions. Thanks for bringing the fun back Gareth Southgate; whatever happens from here on in in Russia, I can’t thank you enough.


WE ASKED…

Who, out of this quartet, would you say was England’s best player during the World Cup group stages?

You voted… 

Kieran Trippier: 41%

John Stones: 11%

Jordan Henderson: 21%

Harry Kane: 27%

  •  This week’s poll…

Who, as we enter the quarter-finals, will win the World Cup? 

Brazil 

France

England

Other (please state)

Get involved, vote and comment, on Twitter
@GavinCaney