Despite our hopes getting up, it seems football didn’t come home last night after all. Which is just disappointing really, isn’t it? This time, many of us thought, we really will do it. Fifty-five years since we last won anything and there we were, in a final, genuinely hopeful and excited by the real possibility of winning.
And, of course, you cannot come much closer to winning, and yet lose, than we did. We took the lead with the fastest goal ever scored in a European Championship final. We held that lead for a large chunk of the game. When the Italians pulled level, we went down to extra time and eventually penalties. Even in the shoot out, the England goalkeeper made some necessary saves to keep us in it. We got down to a final, in penalties, and lost by one. You cannot get any closer to winning, and yet still lose, than that.
Following England has rarely been like this. We are so used to getting knocked out in group stages, or quarter-finals at best. We are used to watching the team play negative, boring football – endless square and backward passes in a bid to bore the opposition into submission. This time was very different. We played positively, we got further, we had a manager who had already gotten us into a semi-final in our last tournament – making him the most successful English manager for some time – and here he oversaw our march to the final.
This time it was different and hope abounded. We all sang three lions, sure that this time it really was coming home. Despite our better English judgement – that always assumes we’re just a bit rubbish at most things to which we put our hand and enjoy making a virtue out of it – we felt we could do it. Hope was there right until the last English kick of a football in the tournament. And then, in a second, all hope faded. We lost.
There are many positives to take away from the tournament altogether. A new generation of players gelling well together. A manager who seems to have us playing more positive football. Southgate has now cemented his place as one of England’s most successful ever managers despite only having led the team through two tournaments and not having been the FA’s first choice manager (can you imagine getting as far as we did with Sam Allardyce? I can’t!) The players and manager can hold their heads high. It puts us on a good footing for the world cup – a semi-final, a final… Could the next one be our win? Hope abounds still.
But such hope always makes me start thinking about Jesus. If we had won the tournament, I would not doubt be saying something like, the win is glorious and thrilling but fleeting. Jesus, however, offers us a hope of glory that will never fade. The glory of a championship is nothing compared to the eternal glory on offer in Christ.
For my handful of Italian readers (I checked the stats, there are some), congratulations to you and your team on winning. But remember that in 3 years, you’ll be doing it all again and the trophy may well no longer be yours. The glory is fleeting. But hope in Jesus Christ and the victory he has won will never fade. It will never have to be replayed. The crown of life on offer in him isn’t up for grabs every four years (or 3 if you’ve delayed a tournament). A championship win is great, but sharing in the victory of Jesus is even greater.
But for us disappointed English, our hopes were dashed. But, as the Romans 10:11 tells us, ‘Everyone who believes on [Jesus] will never be put to shame’. Our hope in an English win is the kind of uncertain hope – a hope that many of us, in our heart of hearts struggle to really believe; we’re never fully confident – but it is there nonetheless. But our hope in Jesus is different. Hebrews 6:19 says it is a ‘an anchor for the soul, firm and secure’. Hope in Jesus is not like supporting England – we hope against hope – but rather, is sure and certain. Jesus’ victory on the cross over sin and death has secured salvation for all who believe: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).
Our hopes may have been dashed in the end of the European Championship, but there is a better hope. A sure and certain hope. We would all do well to hope in him.