Football. It’s just a game, right? That was my opinion prior to watching the Euro 2020 final on Sunday night, during which England had their first chance in 55 years of lifting the trophy in a major tournament.

I am not a football fan. In fact, if there is such thing as the opposite of a football fan, I might be it. I was, therefore, slightly apprehensive about going out in Basingstoke to cover people’s reactions to the game.

It was decided that myself and Gazette photographer Sarah Gaunt would head to Barton’s Mill where the Old Basing pub have erected two giant canopies outside, enabling 350 people to watch the game.

The atmosphere when we arrived at 7pm was electric, as fans sang and chanted in hope of an England victory. Everyone was in good spirits, happy to chat to us and offer their predictions for the night ahead. I started to enjoy myself and embrace the joyous spirit.

I realised that perhaps this wasn’t just about football. England reaching the final had given people something much more than that. It had offered hope after a challenging year. It gave people an excuse to get together and celebrate the enormous achievement of England reaching a final. And it offered the chance for friends, family, and the community to unite in a shared passion for football as everyone cheered on England.

The first goal scored by England prompted deafening celebrations, as people hugged and jumped around in joy.

Fans’ support for England didn’t waiver as they continued their chanting and song-singing relentlessly throughout the first half. If I didn’t have Atomic Kitten’s Southgate, You’re the One song stuck in my head before the final, I certainly did by this point.

However, after Italy equalised with a goal in the second half, we noticed the mood suddenly changing quickly. The tension built and fans went from jubilant and joyous to stressed and angry. The singing turned to shouting, and I was beginning to feel a little uncomfortable.

As I watched some of the fans shouting at the large screens, willing England to score another goal, I realised the enormous hope pinned on this one game and how much it meant.

If England won, I could easily imagine the ecstatic celebrations. However, with an England loss, that tension could easily turn to aggression and anger, particularly fuelled by alcohol. We decided to head back to the front of the pub, where the atmosphere was calmer.

When the time came for the penalty shootout, Sarah and I stood at the front by the television screens to record and photograph the reactions. My heart was beating so fast from the adrenaline of watching hundreds of people screaming and shouting as England’s fate would be decided in minutes.

However, Euro 2020 wasn’t meant to be for England. To begin with, there was silence as supporters let the disappointment sink in. Some commiserated and hugged. Others held their heads in their hands. Unfortunately, as I had feared, a small minority reacted with anger. One man threw his drink on the floor towards us.

At the back of the pub, staff had promptly evicted everyone after the disappointment escalated to anger and some people had thrown their drinks, smashing glass all over the floor, unable to handle the loss and the alcohol. I felt for the staff, who had worked tirelessly all night serving tables; themselves missing most of the historic game, only to be thanked for their efforts by having to deal with aggression.

The news we all later heard of racism towards the players who had missed the penalties was sickening.

What a shame, I thought, that a minority put such a negative, shameful slur on what should have been a celebratory occasion. Despite not taking home the trophy, England still reached the finals. This should have been something to celebrate and feel proud of.

Many of the players who make up the England team are people we can look up to. I feel saddened for them that their achievement in the Euros this year is marred by the disgraceful behaviour of some so-called football fans.

It is this behaviour which puts many of us off football, giving it a bad name, particularly when you hear the frightening statistics relating to an England loss and domestic violence against women.

I had gone out to cover the game thinking, ‘it’s just a game of football’. And, really, it is. However, the emotions felt by many make it so much more than that. The behaviour of others and the backlash resulting from a major match make it more than that. 

I had watched from an outside perspective, not caught up with the emotion and hope felt by fans. I know that many football fans will feel ashamed of the behaviour of some.

The England team crossed a huge hurdle reaching the Euro 2020 final. However, they faced an even bigger hurdle disassociating themselves from the behaviour of the few who bring such negativity to football. Now, action needs to be taken to stamp out racist and thuggish behaviour so that come the World Cup, we can all celebrate England’s achievements with pride. Myself included.