Like about half the UK population, I watched the football on the telly and went through the same mixture of emotions as everyone else who was watching. So let us just remind ourselveswhat they were – disappointment and also pride.
What I particularly felt proud about – though it is unfashionable and probably horribly politically incorrect to say so – is being English. Thanks to the restrained and calmness of Kane and Southgate.
Of course, that was before the news about the violence and the muggings. In Sussex, most of the taxi drivers simply abandoned the scenes of insanity and went home.
I used to have a theory about our national personality – based on the single antagonistic meeting between Nelson and Wellington, in the lobby of 10 Downing Street (I wrote more about this in my book How to be English).
My feeling was that Wellington invented a new kind of personality for the British – clipped, laconic and unemotional. His despatch about the Battle of Waterloo was so uncommitted that the American ambassador reported home that he must have lost. That was also the personality we were brought up with.
Nelson represented the older, English version – sentimental, over-indulgent, and determined. And yet calm too.
It seems to me that we have now reverted to the original, and that isn’t always very pretty.
But most of all, I have been proud of Gareth Southgate’s obvious leadership abilities. He is one of a handful of people who speak in public in an entirely unfamiliar tone – who seem to make it possible for us all to be better people.
Another one was Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner. Neither of them are infallible, but they take responsibility for their mistakes and they explain how brilliant people can be. In fact, Cressida Dick was – as I wrote at the time – single-handedly responsible for the change in mood during the 2017 general election by emphasising the individual courage of passers-by during the terrorist attack then, rather than banging on endlessly about revenge and vulnerability.
Now I fully recognise that we have a problem in the UK with football violence and online racism. But I wish politicians could find it in their hearts to talk up the English capacity for heroism and calm sometimes.
It seems to me that most political rhetoric coming out of Number 10 at the moment appeals to our worst sides, not our best – especially now, as we head towards the Great Experiment by Boris Johnson: opening up everything just when our infection rate is now higher than Pakistan’s. It is the quintessential definition of Toryism by Gladstone: distrust of the people, tempered by fear.