final straw | 

I know their fans are annoying and the hype around the team is nauseous...but if England win, don’t lose sleep

I fancy Italy but the fact Scousers are backing Three Lions shows this is special
Harry Kane and (left) Phil Foden celebrate the winner in the semi-final.

Harry Kane and (left) Phil Foden celebrate the winner in the semi-final.

John Aldridge

The city of Liverpool has always had a strained relationship with the England football team and for that reason, many people in my hometown will be supporting Italy in tonight’s Euro 2020 final.

If Liverpool had a referendum to leave England, I’m pretty sure they would vote out... and probably declare themselves as a new part of Ireland!

Nearly everyone in Liverpool has Irish connections and the way the city has been treated down the years by the central government in London, it’s hard for a lot of people here to support England.

The manner that Maggie Thatcher showed disrespect to Liverpool in the 1980s, the horrendous treatment of the families of the Hillsborough victims and the sight of that clown Boris Johnson sitting in Downing Street as the Prime Minister means support for England is very thin in this part of the country.

This explains why I’ve had plenty of Liverpool fans on my Twitter feed in recent weeks saying they are supporting whoever England have been playing in Euro 2020 and that is part of their upbringing.

Cockneys have always had more support for England and the fact that every game tends to be played at Wembley makes it a lot easier for them to feel an affinity with the team.

This explains why at the start of Euro 2020, I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in the tournament as Ireland were not part of the story and international football has not floated my boat for a long time.

Yet I have to admit, I’ve started to warm to the England team and especially their manager Gareth Southgate.

Jack Grealish in action against the Danes.

Jack Grealish in action against the Danes.

There are some fine young players in this England side and they have handled themselves so well, on and off the pitch, over the last few weeks, with Southgate setting the tone superbly as their leader.

I have met Gareth a few times and he is a great fella, very polite and down to earth, and everyone in football has good things to say about him.

He came out with a group of us when Paul McGrath had his testimonial match in Dublin back in 1998 and he was great company.

He is in the one job that is perfect for him right now as he has the right temperament, attitude and philosophy to get the best out of this very talented England squad.

Even if he wins Euro 2020, I’m not sure he would be first in line for a top job in the Premier League any time soon, as he is not proven at that level of the game after a difficult spell in charge of Middlesbrough ended in relegation.

Yet he has all the qualities you require to be an England manager in the modern game and England can thank their lucky stars that he got the job when Sam Allardyce was caught out talking nonsense in a media sting back in 2016.

I don’t believe Allardyce would have guided England to the kind of success Southgate is generating now, so maybe Sam’s best service to his country was getting out of the top job and letting someone more suitable take it!

What Southgate has got on his side is a set of players who are oozing with talent and their strength in depth has been vital to their success in Euro 2020.

Bringing on players of the quality of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho is a real luxury, but you have to say Southgate has made the most of the talent he is working with and has got all the big decisions right this summer.

England fully deserve to be in tonight’s final and while I still think they might get beaten by an Italian side I had a bet on at 6/1 before Euro 2020 started, the joy this winning run has brought the country has been uplifting.

Even in Liverpool, the hype machine has gone into overdrive since their win against Germany last week and after everything we have all been through over the last year, you can understand why people are desperate to have something to smile about.

England manager Gareth Southgate.

England manager Gareth Southgate.

It reminds me of the days when the streets of Dublin, Cork and the rest of this country emptied for international matches when I was part of Jack Charlton’s team in major tournaments.

And if Stephen Kenny and the modern Ireland team are looking in on this England success, they have to be inspired by it.

While I appreciate England have a much better group of players than Ireland are blessed with right now, we have been given a reminder of the joy international football can inject into people’s lives.

So will England do it tonight? I’m not so sure and I’m not saying that just because I’ve got a few quid resting on an Italian win.

I can see Italy scoring the first goal and if that happens, they will do everything to try and stop England getting back into the game.

Playing against Italian defenders was a nightmare as they would use every trick in the book to try and unsettle you and the same will be true tonight.

Harry Kane will be pinched, prodded, stood on and wound up from first to last, and England need their talisman to stand firm and deliver when it matters most.

Kane fluffed his lines the other night when he threw in a horrible penalty that was saved by Denmark keeper Kasper Schmeichel in extra-time.

Yet unlike my penalty in the 1988 FA Cup final at the same end of the Wembley pitch, he got lucky as the rebound came straight out to him and he ended up being the hero on the night.

If only that had happened to me 33 years ago I wouldn’t still be thinking about that moment now!

Kane has not been at his best in this tournament and he probably needs to be if England are going to win what I expect to be a cagey and unattractive game tonight.

There is too much at stake to expect both teams to go out and play with freedom, so it might come down to who scores first and who takes their chances.

And if England win it, don’t lose too much sleep over it.

I know their fans are annoying and the hype around the team is nauseous, but after everything we have been through in the last year, let’s just enjoy the sight of a packed Wembley and what should be a great occasion.

Booing of anthems is stupid and will spur rivals

England fans will boo the Italian national anthem again tonight and I can’t get my head around their logic.

We all know the England football team attracts a fanbase that includes a reasonable percentage of undesirables.

The hooligan element that has always attached themselves to the England team has helped to ensure they have been hated around the world for many years.

Now they are covering themselves in shame again by booing the opposition anthem ahead of every game, which has to be counter-productive.

If I was the opposition and the England fans booed my anthem, it would fire me up even more to go out and give them a battering and I’m sure that’s how the Italy players will view it tonight.

After everything Denmark have been through with Christian Eriksen’s collapse, I couldn’t believe that the English fans still booed their anthem ahead of the semi-final, but that’s what they are like.

In my time playing for Ireland, we had total respect for the opposition’s anthem and that’s the way it should be.

England fans would be wise to work out that they are not helping their team by behaving like morons before their team’s biggest game in 55 years this evening.

  • England v Italy, Euro 2020 Final, today, 8.0pm, Live RTE2

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