I want to write about football. I really, really do. But I just can’t, and that’s painful. It’s taken all day for the processing even to begin.  I don’t like writing in first person, but I can’t do this any other way.  And this is no place for fancy word play or comparing fancy footwork to fine dining or any of that jazz. 

This piece should be about footballing heartbreak. Because that’s what it was. And as much as it hurt in the moment – and it really, really stung and will continue to do so – there were far greater takeaways. A journey we’ve been on together, steered by a group with a bond so strong it feels unbreakable. If what they have, courtesy of Gareth Southgate, was replicated across wider society, life would be infinitely more pleasurable. They are pride worthy. Oh, so much pride. They fell agonisingly short, and in the cruellest of fashions, but rest assured this is just the beginning.  

But there is a problem: when, in years to come, I recall Sunday – England’s biggest footballing occasion in 55 years – it won’t be events on the pitch my brain turns to first. The ecstasy of Luke Shaw’s early opener will be a mere footnote. Marcus Rashford’s penalty clinking the outside of the post will register a little higher, but not much.  

For etched into my memory is a pre-game experience that will live with me forever. I love football. Like, I bloody love it. I reckon I’ve done 800 plus games in my lifetime, taking in action around the continent. I’ve been lucky enough to attend European finals, but am equally as comfortable watching Haringey Borough. Newcastle United away is my happy place.  

Never have I experienced anything close to last night. I didn’t know it were possible to both desperately want to be somewhere, yet at the same time wish I was thousands of miles away.  Disgust. Shame. Fear.  

It felt so different to Wednesday’s semi-final, or the Germany win. Those were wonderful occasions, the atmosphere one of anticipation and delight. Shared joy.  

Not this time. Off the tube at Wembley Park and down the steps. And then it turned. Wading through empty cans and broken glass. Trying to forge a path through the thousands of bodies, while also keeping half an eye out for full, flying cans.  

Never have I got that mentality. I try not to judge, but if you’re the kind of person who thinks it acceptable to fling heavy objects into a crowd well, just fuck off. Like seriously. Take a long hard look at yourself, and keep looking. Then look some more. In fact, ideally don’t stop, don’t leave that room until your time on earth is done.  

Getting to the ground was worse. When I made it up the stairs, the first thing I saw was an easy access entrance at Gate G being opened to allow a wheelchair users in. Hundred piled through. This was not good.  

Throngs had formed around the turnstiles.  At one point they locked them. Most of those closest appeared not to have tickets. It was claustrophobic. When eventually I got to the front, there was a lad loitering clearly intent on following me behind. When I told him to do one, he had a go at me: we’re all in this together he said.  

The poor stewards. Volunteers many of them, barely stood a chance. The bland but predictable statements offered by Wembley and UEFA spoke of a few fans entering without tickets. Well, by that they mean a few thousand….they are still grossly underestimating it. Where were the police? This was hardly unpredictable. The worst organized security I’ve seen, at the event that needed it most.  

The saddest part is I managed to get my Dad a ticket. There are people with whom I’ve watched far more football, but I wanted to spend the evening with him. I’m not particularly adept at showing love or affection, particularly with the old man. It’s all just a little awkward. But what better way to say I love you by getting taking him to watch England in a major final?  

He agonized and then turned it down because of the COVID risk. He’s getting on and lives in the countryside. Living in London now, I’ve accepted the risk. It was slightly cruel to ask really. For him to go from 18 months of lockdown to that was too scary. Naturally I was disappointed but I understood.  

Sadder still though is that I’m so glad he didn’t come. He would have hated it. I hated it really until getting to my seat (which, naturally, was occupied). Any other game and I’d have turned around. If he was there, we wouldn’t have bothered. I couldn’t have guaranteed his safety. I’m 6ft plus and have never been a scrapper, but at least have shoulders to hold my own in a crowd to an extent. He’s much smaller and nearly 70.  

It was a once in a lifetime chance, that I’m delighted was missed. Not how it should have been. Football went to Rome. And deservedly so: nice things tend to happen to nice people. We, as a collective, were not nice.

Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Rashford are all heroes in my eyes, along with everyone involved in that squad. They should be yours too. If not, I won’t judge; I just don’t want owt to do with you.

Say what you like about the manager – and he was too cautious against Italy – but his dignity, the way he conducts himself is of far greater importance than any trophy. If I happen to bump into one of them in the future, I don’t want a selfie or an autograph. I just want to say thank you. Thank you for the ride, for bringing some joy back into our lives.

Football will come home. Just not today.

SAM DALLING – @sammyd767