I HAVE only ever been to one football match.

It was on Boxing Day, about 30 years ago, and I don’t remember much about it, other than that it was freezing cold and everyone queued up for pies in the interval (or half-time, as I believe it is known). And City lost, so it all felt a bit flat.

I grew up in a house where football seemed to be always on the telly. I was familiar with the names of star players - George Best, Kevin Keegan, Pat Jennings, Trevor Francis - largely because of the posters on my brother’s bedroom wall, and the football cards he collected. He was an avid reader of Roy of the Rovers comic books, which fell onto the doormat each week alongside my Bunty.

Football was always around, but I had zero interest in it. I had a friend at university who was a huge Liverpool fan and she’d get so wound up before, during and after matches - emotional, anguished, and occasionally so enraged she turned the air blue - I was part envious and part relieved that I didn’t have that passion for a football team.

The first time I watched a whole match on TV was the 1990 World Cup, when suddenly the excitement was infectious. Without even realising it, I became caught up in the Italia 90 feelgood factor; I seemed to know who several of the England players were, and went from total indifference to actually cheering them on. I gathered round the telly with my brother and our mates - flags were draped across shoulders, we had beers and snacks and sang along to World in Motion, and there was a visceral joy in sharing that collective national viewing experience.

I still knew next to nothing about football, but found I could actually follow a match, give or take some technicalities, and I felt some of the joy and pain that proper fans have in their blood. The semi-final was practically Shakespearean; as the tears streamed down Gazza’s face, our hearts were broken and our dreams slipped away at the final whistle.

After that, of course, I went back to having zero interest in football. To be honest, I found watching matches so stressful I couldn’t understand how anyone could put themselves through it every week.

Then a few years later came Euro 96 and I was a fair weather footy fan again. That long hot summer of Cool Britannia, crowding into the pub after work to watch the matches, against a soundtrack of Oasis, Blur and Football’s Coming Home. Another England vs Germany semi-final, more joy and anguish, and the dream shattered once again.

I remain a fickle fan (well, ‘fan’ is stretching it a bit), only becoming vaguely interested if England reach the quarter final stage of an international tournament. Not for me the relentless slog of staying loyal to a team week in, week out, in rain and sleet, through thick and thin. I am, however, full of admiration for those who do this. My brother still follows the team he loved as a boy, despite continual disappointment and frustration.

Now another summer of football is underway. Like everything else these days, it’s a different kind of experience, and a world away from the heady Britpop summer of 96. But after a year like no other, we can finally share a collective sports experience that will capture and break hearts and give us a bit of hope, whatever the outcome.

l How are you celebrating Euro 2021? Are there divided loyalties in your household for tomorrow’s England vs Scotland match, or other games? Are you painting your face, hanging up bunting, dressing up your pet/toddler/house in team colours? Share footy-themed photos at emma.clayton@nqyne.co.uk