HOW many years of hurt now? Forgive me if I’ve lost count.

But tomorrow night, when the whistle blows in Rome for the Euro 2020 opener between Italy and Turkey, we will prepare to go through the agonies once more.

In this Land of little Hope and even less Glory, it is time to believe again. This really can be our time.

And here’s why somebody who should know better genuinely feels that this is it.


England boast the second-youngest squad in the competition, leading to inevitable worries that they lack experience.

Harry Kane, as always, Harry Maguire and the likes of Raheem Sterling will be key characters in keeping the heads of more youthful colleagues out of the clouds.

But this lot know big games and major trophies. Don’t be fooled by the birthdates.

England’s ranks include Champions League winners, Premier League winners, Europa League finalists, teenagers who have flourished in the top flight both here and in Germany.

They are no rabbits in head lights. They can be young and fearless.


Gareth Southgate is blessed with an abundance of attacking talent in the ranks.

Harry Kane is backed up by a wonderful supporting cast of Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka.

Let them off the leash!

Yes, Greece lifted this trophy 17 years ago with some of the dullest football known to man.

Yes, England could focus on a gameplan of Grealish winning penalties and stumbling through 1-0.

But just think of what can be achieved with a Wembley crowd roaring on a young side prepared to throw caution to the wind and go for it.

The defence isn’t the best, there’s no getting away from that. So put the onus on the other end of the pitch – take risks, take chances and take the initiative.


Harry Kane doesn’t often do angry – but under that ultra-cool exterior he must be steaming right now.

The Premier League’s Golden Boot winner with 23 goals and top “assister” despite playing for a slack Spurs side that stumbled to seventh and yet, somehow, he was pipped by Kevin De Bruyne for the PFA’s player of the year.

Like an Oscar winner currently consigned to performing in a two-bit soap, Kane will surely flourish even more with so much more quality around him.

The perfect answer to that snub from his fellow professionals would be lifting a shiny trophy on July 11.

In Russia, the goals dried up in the knock-out games after he had rattled in five in two in the group stages. But Kane has continued to mature and, crucially, remains injury-free.

The stage is ready for one of the deadliest goal-scorers in the world.


It’s unbelievable to think that Gareth Southgate is now in his fifth year in the job.

His open letter this week in the wake of the booing to England taking the knee showed his class as a role model and decent human being.

He understands the all-consuming pressure of his position and the responsibilities beyond the football pitch that come with it.

But no grand speeches or carefully-scripted words of encouragement will save him if England fall short.

Russia was a case of so near yet so far. Now England expects to go to the next level.

The question marks remain over whether Southgate has the tactical acumen to outsmart elite teams when it most matters. We shall find out in the coming weeks.


An opening clash with Croatia on Sunday offers the immediate chance to banish the misery of Moscow.

But Croatia are not the irresistible force of three years ago. They finished with the lowest points of any qualifying group winners and were held to a draw by Azerbaijan.

Luka Modric’s twinkling boots still contain magic but that is fading at 35. He’s no Phil Foden right now.

The Czech Republic are keen but limited. England defenders know all about the aerial power of West Ham’s Toumas Soucek and just need to stay switched on at set-pieces.

Scotland will be Scotland, of course. Wembley is their World Cup final.

Their squad, which include former Bantam Jon McLaughlin as back-up keeper, has more talent than for many years and the hunger will be second to none.

Match their intensity and England’s extra quality will surely shine through.

Mind you, it might be better off doing a sneaky and finishing second – if Southgate is ready to take the flak.

The runners-up are likely to get a last-16 meeting with Spain or Sweden rather than Portugal, Germany or France waiting for the group winners.


France are favourites for good reason. Losing finalists five years ago, World Cup winners since and now boosted by the return of Karim Benzema – it’s hard to spot a chink in their armour unless egos collide.

Defending champions Portugal should go close, Belgium will no doubt flatter to deceive once again as the tournament’s equivalent of the “emperor’s new clothes”.

Italy could be a dark horse and, cliché alert, you can never write off Germany however ordinary they have looked.

But England, it’s got to be. Hasn’t it?