I’m a football journalist now, but I became a football journalist because I’m a football fan. This is my sport, it’s the only one I care about, and it’s not meant to be played in empty stadiums.
The phrase ‘football is nothing without fans’ has been said a lot since the COVID-19 pandemic robbed the greatest game of its greatest asset, and it’s undoubtedly true, but it hasn’t hit me as hard as it did just before England and Denmark kicked off.
You see, some of my best memories are in football grounds. A lot of them involve Sheffield Wednesday, some of them don’t, but every single one of them have one thing in common – people.
I’ve been lucky enough to get to games over the last year, and I know that that’s a privilege in itself, but I didn’t come home to cover my boyhood club to see them score a last-minute winner away at Bournemouth and be the only one celebrating.
But having watched games in empty stadiums for almost a year now, and having not been at what I would consider a ‘proper’ football match since the start of 2020, it was all a bit much to take in on Wednesday night.
The fans. The songs. The hugging of strangers when Harry Kane bundled home after his missed penalty. The collective holding of breath at any hint of emotion – good or bad.
That’s what football is all about.
I’m one of many, I’d imagine… That first game back with fans, wherever it might be and whoever you support, feels like a homecoming. Like this sense of you being back where you need to be.
Don’t get me wrong, it helps when they win – something we haven’t seen too much of at Hillsborough lately – but what I paid for my ticket to Wembley was worth every single penny, even if we’d ended up losing. It’s a feeling that I’ll tell people about for the rest of my life.
We need more togetherness in this world. We need that commonality between us that makes you part of something bigger. Football gives you that. I went on my own to Wembley, but I was never alone there. Tens of thousands of others were sat on the very same emotional rollercoaster that I was on – and I bet I wasn’t the only one holding back tears over the course of the evening.
Even on Thursday, watching videos of the night before, my heartstrings were getting pulled at again, and a lump developed in my throat as I thought about how long it’d been since so many had felt that sense of belonging.
So yeah, when I hear ‘You’re everywhere and nowhere baby’ pumping out of the speakers at S6 next month, and thousands of Wednesdayites singing along with it, you best believe that lump in my throat will be back again.
Football fans are coming home. And I couldn’t be more excited.