Sheffield Euros: I remember the moment - and the quiet - when England's Euro 2021 dreams slipped out of reach

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After weeks of noise, poor Bukayo Saka took the fifth and final penalty kick - and there was finally silence.

Plans for the Devonshire Green’s Fanzone have been announced, which means, once again, the UEFA European Championship - you know, The Euros - are back in Sheffield. Here, reporter for The Star Alastair Ulke remembers the hype, momentum, and crushing end to England’s dreams at the finals back in 2021.

If I remember anything from England’s shot at the Euros 2020 championship, it wasn’t the weeks of hype but the desolate silence when the dream came to an end at the last grasp. Picture: Chris EtchellsIf I remember anything from England’s shot at the Euros 2020 championship, it wasn’t the weeks of hype but the desolate silence when the dream came to an end at the last grasp. Picture: Chris Etchells
If I remember anything from England’s shot at the Euros 2020 championship, it wasn’t the weeks of hype but the desolate silence when the dream came to an end at the last grasp. Picture: Chris Etchells

I remember how quiet it was.

It was the evening of July 11, 2021, the England V Italy finals, and the night up to that point had been far from quiet. I was tasked with reporting on the atmosphere in Sheffield and witness whatever the fallout would be from England’s grasping attempt at the (delayed by Covid) UEFA Euros 2020 championship.

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The weeks leading up to that fateful penalty shootout were characterised by noise. The eruption after the 2-1 victory over Denmark that waved Gareth Southgate’s squad into the final. The chanting of a hundred fans dancing in Barker’s Pool. That rendition of Atomic Kitten’s ‘Whole Again’ (you know the one).

But after weeks of noise, after an agonising evening of extra time and spoke-to-soon celebrations, poor Bukayo Saka took the fifth and final penalty kick - and there was finally silence.

In the Common Room Sports Bar on Devonshire Green, stony-faced fans held their heads in their hands wondering where it all went wrong.In the Common Room Sports Bar on Devonshire Green, stony-faced fans held their heads in their hands wondering where it all went wrong.
In the Common Room Sports Bar on Devonshire Green, stony-faced fans held their heads in their hands wondering where it all went wrong.

Seconds before, The Common Room Sports Bar on Division Street had hummed like an electric generator. The power snapped off like Saka had kicked the kill switch.

I think of the video clip above often. The sea of still and breezeless England flags. The crowded bar reduced to slumped silence. The only sounds I remember was the TV commentary pronouncing the loss like a tolling bell, and the single, hard, statue-toppling slap of some crestfallen fan’s palms hitting a table.

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And then there’s this poor man - Callum, I believe - who I found collapsed by the bar.

The dejection of Callum -  The Common Room, Division Street, 11pm on July 11, 2021. Taken in the aftermath of England v Italy in the Euro 2021 final. Picture: Chris EtchellsThe dejection of Callum -  The Common Room, Division Street, 11pm on July 11, 2021. Taken in the aftermath of England v Italy in the Euro 2021 final. Picture: Chris Etchells
The dejection of Callum - The Common Room, Division Street, 11pm on July 11, 2021. Taken in the aftermath of England v Italy in the Euro 2021 final. Picture: Chris Etchells

I want to frame this photo some day. It’s practically Renaissance.

“Hi man,” I said taking a knee next to him, note pad out. I believe I put a hand on his shoulder. “How are you feeling right now?”

“I’m an emotional wreck,” he told me. “I’m heartbroken.

"We’re a team full of promise, of future. We’re building up. It’s coming home next time. Next time.

"We’re gonna win the next one. We’re a top team.”

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After filing my story I headed out to see how the world outside The Common Room was coping.

My favourite sight was that of some lads kicking a ball back and forth outside Bungalows & Bears.

My other was the orange glow of a pop-up roadworks sign on St Mary’s Gate, retooled to read ‘Sheffield, It’s Coming Home!’, buzzing quietly in the drizzling rain.

I haven’t a clue how England’s squad is doing in 2024 or if there’s any momentum behind current renditions of Southgate You’re The One.

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But in 2021, every match I covered, every night in a Sheffield sports bar cataloguing punters’ boundless optimism, each one was the one I expected to be my last. But the train had no brakes and England just kept winning. Maybe this year, poor Callum will really have something to cheer about.

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