The Three Lions have raised the nation and deserve to raise the cup

Pride of Lions full of honour & humility

FINALLY, after 55 years, the wait is over.

At eight o’clock tonight the nation will come together to watch England go for glory in a Wembley final for the first time since 1966.

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No pressure there then, boys.

But as we prepare to face Italy just remember that under the inspired leadership of Gareth Southgate, this entire England squad has not put a foot wrong.

The ability and steel of this young side — with some still in their teens — cannot be doubted and their composure off the field is just as impressive as on it

We finally have a team where the ­players and staff grasp the positive role they can — and should — play in our ­national life.

They may all be millionaires but this crop of young stars have shown a humility often beyond their years.

They recognise how they can shape our country for the better.

These are not the arrogant figures of the past, who sometimes behaved as if they were doing us all a favour by turning out in the Three Lions shirt.

Instead, this squad collectively pledged to make a huge donation to NHS charities following tonight’s final.

Our multi-racial England team understands the perhaps unique power of the national sport to unify us after a recent past blighted by bitter political division and the pandemic.

If they weren’t blessed with outrageous sporting talents you sense they would have been out there themselves celebrating as fans.

To hear Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Kalvin Phillips speak eloquently about the sacrifices their parents made as they started out is to get a powerful insight into the struggles faced by millions of ordinary families across this nation.

These players will never forget where they come from and are not afraid to express themselves honestly.

That fearlessness has translated itself on to the pitch — these are no spoilt bottlers gripped by concerns about failure.

It is easy to forget now that Gareth Southgate was initially only given the England job on a caretaker basis.

He has brought a calm dignity to what was once described as an impossible job and made it look enjoyable.

For him, being England boss is more than just choosing a team.

He grasps that conduct is more important than how you perform — a far cry from some of his mercenary predecessors.

And the bitter experience of his 1996 penalty miss means he understands how despair and joy shapes this nation.

Gareth knows that if we stay strong and remain united through moments of agony and doubt we will emerge triumphant.

The Three Lions have raised the nation.

Tonight, they deserve to raise the cup.

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