The nerve-jangling penalty shootout victory against Colombia on Tuesday was greeted with impromptu street parties up and down the country, as fans of the English football team released all the pent-up emotions that all of the previous shootout heartbreaks had amassed.
It's safe to say that the England team is doing a lot more for the country than winning games of football on the pitch in Russia; and I, for one, do not want it to stop.
Compare this to the scenes witnessed in Nice in 2016, as an England team infamously lost 2-1 to the footballing minnows of Iceland at the quarter-final stage of the European Championship. A lacklustre, disjointed and utterly clueless performance dumped England out of the Euros, just four days after the country, coincidentally, (along with the three other nations of the United Kingdom) marginally voted to leave the European Union.
The division, sparked by the Brexit vote, was only compounded by the performance and result of the English national team. It felt as if that showing in France had encapsulated England's results at tournaments for some 12 years, since our last victory in a knockout game at any international tournament.
In the aftermath of Brexit and, subsequently, England's loss, stories were emerging across the country of racial abuse directed towards those of differing race and religion; creating a rather unsettling and unwanted taste to the multicultural country we live in.
Gareth Southgate's England team, however, has appeared to have gone some way to halting this division during their time at the World Cup in Russia. His young and diverse side has reinvigorated the country's enthusiasm, passion and obsession with the game; and the victory in the penalty shootout could have, rather, marked a change in direction for the team, and England as a country.
This is what a friend of mine, second generation of immigrants, told me today— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) July 4, 2018
“For the first time in my life I can fully behind the team as a ‘foreigner’ even though I was born and bred in South East London. It feels like everyone’s team and that was not always the case...”
Social media was a hive of activity after the victory against Colombia: from tweets stating that 'Football's coming home' to videos of the reactions of fans all over the country. More importantly, it demonstrated how England, and how football, has brought a multicultural, divided and tense country together, as one. Sky Sports' Spanish football expert Guillem Balague tweeted how one individual can now feel free to associate themselves with the England national team.
This story is not in isolation, either. Another anecdote had emerged on Twitter. A group of muslim girls were on a train home after the game against Colombia, one wearing an England football top, where they met a group of white English fans. They sang, rejoiced and celebrated together as one collective and united identity.
There were two older girls in hijabs and two younger girls, one of whom was wearing an England football shirt. When she saw the England fans get on in their England shirts, the girl looked absolutely delighted. I was utterly terrified.— Nish Kumar (@MrNishKumar) July 4, 2018
These stories are a demonstration of the work that this World Cup has done for the modern English society as a whole. While there is still plenty of work still to do in that respect, it is heartwarming, uplifting and very positive to read stories of inclusion two years on from the stories of division in 2016.
Let's hope for much more to come from Gareth Southgate's promising team, as they come up against Sweden on Saturday, in England's first World Cup quarter-final since the loss against Portugal in 2006.