It all felt inevitable.
After arriving in Russia with low expectations following some of English international football’s darkest years, Gareth Southgate and his well-bonded group offered a straw of hope that the hands of a nation clutched onto.
If anyone was expecting a measured response to England’s progress, in keeping with the team’s air of calm authority, they were to be sorely disappointed. England fans have had little to cheer about in recent years and they would make the most of every minute before it all came crashing down.
And when the final whistle blew following the defeat to Croatia on Wednesday night, behind the blind optimism there was a gut feeling it would turn out this way. It always does.
The frenzied reaction to the Three Lions’ exploits drew criticism from many quarters. In the immediate aftermath, Roy Keane, speaking live on ITV, accused the England fans and media of getting “ahead of themselves.”
People talked about the final, where they would watch it and imagined the scale of the victory parade. Then there were the social gatherings, beer showers and regurgitated strains of “It’s coming home.” For those not attached to the English football team, it may have seemed a little desperate.
But imagine for a second everyone had held back, shelved the party plans and warned each other not to get ahead of themselves. Imagine if the fans were more restrained, ‘that’ song wasn’t sung and life just carried on in a relatively normal way. Imagine if everyone had said: let’s save it for the final. And then lost to Croatia still.
Sometimes football is as much about the journey as it is about the destination. Liverpool may have lost the Champions League final back in May, but their fans probably had more fun than any others along the way, despite receiving widespread derision for their exuberant shows of support.
And there were parallels in the way England’s fans milked every second of their World Cup run - the bravado fuelled by hope of victory, but tempered by the reality it could soon all be over. The desire to enjoy it while it lasts and see where we end up.
Amongst all that, there was talk of a nation being united. After two years of gloom, despondency and sniping from across the political divides, there was a rare moment of shared positivity.
And that positivity will be carried forward. For the first time in an age, England exit a tournament feeling good about the future. The second youngest squad in the tournament were 20 minutes away from facing the youngest in a World Cup final. The penalty shootout monkey has been removed from their backs and they a have manager who has given rise to a new team dynamic, a new identity.
England’s fans may have got carried away but the camp did not. They were well-prepared, grounded and never under-estimated their opponents. And it was this anchored approach behind the scenes that allowed those watching on to go just a little wild.
What are your thoughts? Did England get carried away? Let us know by commenting below.