Ever since I was a boy I've loved football. Yet like every other England fan too young to remember 1966, I've known more than my share of heartbreak.
So for me, as for other England fans, tomorrow's final feels personal.
It's a chance to exorcise the demons of the past, and taste the one thing we always feared was beyond us — glory.
Not everybody lives and breathes the beautiful game. But one of the wonderful things about England's run to the Euro 2020 final is that it has captivated so many people who don't usually care about football at all.
Only football can do this. Other great sports, such as rugby and cricket, have plenty of admirers, and in my lifetime England have been world champions in both.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
But football is different. For all the players' professionalism, it remains a game of simplicity, the same game our Victorian predecessors played in the shadow of their long-vanished factories.
'The working man's ballet', a former England player called it — and he was right.
Here's a guide for the football fans who, until this week, didn't know they were football fans. Come on, England!
Now, after a dark and depressing 18 months, England's footballers have captured the national imagination.
Skilful, humble and hard-working, Gareth Southgate's boys represent our country at its very best, standing tall on the international stage.
Of course it's only a game. Deep down, even I know that. But when the referee blows his whistle and the players kick off, it will be everything.
So here's my guide for the football fans who, until this week, didn't know they were fans. Come on, England!
MANAGER WHO RESTORED OUR PRIDE
In 1996, Gareth Southgate knew the worst agony football has to offer. With millions glued to their screens, he stepped up in the semi-final penalty shootout against Germany — and missed.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
Nobody cares about that now. Having taken the national team to a semi-final in Russia in 2018, Southgate has now gone one better. England are just 90 minutes from glory, and everybody knows he deserves much of the credit.
Ironically, he only inherited the job as a stop-gap, but acquitted himself so well he has never left.
He has built the most effective England team since the 1960s: composed and conservative, building to a devastating crescendo.
But Southgate's impact goes well beyond success on the pitch. In his own words, he has 'never been good at gambling, drinking, fighting, tantrums, celebrity'.
A devoted family man, polite and well-spoken, he cuts a wonderfully modest, gentlemanly figure. He deserves victory.
But win or lose, he has made us proud to be English.
As England manager, one of Southgate's most admirable qualities has been his flexibility.
Instead of sticking with a rigid system, he tailors his approach to the opposition. His most trusted stalwarts make up the spine of the team, but the supporting cast rotates as he sees fit.
Tomorrow, England are likely to kick off in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Jordan Pickford in goal and four rugged defenders in Kyle Walker, Luke Shaw, John Stones and Harry Maguire, protected by two midfield pivots in Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips.
To create chances, the team relies on the quicksilver Mason Mount and flying wingers Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka.
As England manager, one of Gareth Southgate's (pictured) most admirable qualities has been his flexibility. Instead of sticking with a rigid system, he tailors his approach to the opposition
Leading the line, there are few better strikers in the world than England's captain, Harry Kane.