AFTER a month of football, Euro 2020 came down to a penalty shootout.

It is possibly the cruellest way to lose a game but also the most amazing feeling if you win a penalty shootout.

A team of likeable players, managed by the humble Gareth Southgate, reduced to tears in front of a nation that has come together to cheer them on throughout this tournament.

The Three Lion’s hopes were dashed yet again in an anxious close contest that saw Italy conquer Wembley and Euro 2020.

Did we get ahead of ourselves and think we had won the trophy before a ball was kicked, or were we just so in tune and love with this squad that we were willing an England win?

Who knows, but after many years of mediocrity under McClaren, Capello, Hodgson, an appearance in a major tournament final was one to savour. And fans dared to dream.

Weymouth shuts down as fans gather in pubs and bars to watch final

Dorset Echo: Our view of the Euro 2020 final in Golden Lion pubOur view of the Euro 2020 final in Golden Lion pub

Before kick-off, Weymouth was eerily quiet, like the calm before a storm.

Security guards outside bars, fans slipping into pubs at the last minute while others were getting some fresh air before the biggest game for the England men’s game for 55 years.

It was sad standing outside Rendezvous, the site of the huge screen from 2018 and England’s game against Croatia, how it was empty and thinking how it could have been different to see England fans safely watch the game.

My base for the night was at the Golden Lion, based on St Edmund Street.

It was electric and posed for a historic game. The spaced out tables were full of fans wearing England shirts of different eras, holding onto their drinks and barmaids ensuring drinks were topped up.

It was only two minutes when England scored thanks to a sublime Luke Shaw moment. People off their seats, chants were sung and there was just pure excitement and disbelief.

One or two murmurs of ‘we’re scored too early’ and I agreed at the time. Italy certainly looked shaken and surprised and made confusing decisions on the ball. It felt like they were there for the taking.

More insightful football fans than me will explain why that was, what England should have done and answered why Southgate’s men were so cautious and defending a 1-0 lead after 30 minutes.

The second highlight of the first half came as the TV warned it was going to switch off in less than a minute. Frantic cries of ‘get the remote’ and disgruntled murmurs about a text box blocking the screen ensured.

Despite a nearby punter scrambling to find a random button to press on the TV, it switched off. Cue boos and ‘awwws’ and celebration as a very apologetic staff member found the right remote to switch it back on.

I think the pub needed that, in all fairness. Being a half away from your first major trophy in 55 years, sometimes laughter can ease the tension.

'I think we’ve scored too early' - Fans nervous during half time

Dorset Echo: Audrey and Michael with their dog Milo watched the game togetherAudrey and Michael with their dog Milo watched the game together

The feeling around half time was cautious optimism. A lot of people didn’t want a journalist wondering over to their tables asking them what they thought so far. I don’t blame them to be honest.

One Sunderland fan, who was with his wife and their dog, did speak of how it was amazing to see England in this position – but was very cautious.

“I think we’ve scored too early. We have got a big 45 minutes coming up”, he said.

When I asked what could calm his nerves, he simply said: “More beer.”

Another fan said: “I think it’s our time. We have endured so much over the last year or so that I think we need this as a country.

“This team has worked hard to get here and it feels like the stars have aligned for us.”

Throughout the second half, the tension returned. After one or two strong Italian chances, a goalmouth scramble resulted in a Leonardo Bonucci equaliser.

Dorset Echo: England fans pre-matchEngland fans pre-match

There was a feeling it was certainly coming. The way Italy switched their system, controlled possession and England were left tracking players’ runs showed that this game had flipped on its head.

Looks of disbelief and mutterings of ‘oh no’ filled the pub as England were pegged back.  

Extra time loomed and with every passing minute, tension grew. There’s no other way to put it, but the anxiety was growing throughout the extra 30 minutes and the realisation that maybe it won’t be England’s day.

A nearby table tried to rouse a nervous pub with various chants, but it didn’t seem to work. I think punters were just praying for divine intervention and a sudden England goal.

There were more murmurs of the semi-final at World Cup 2018 with many fearing an Italian sucker punch. England looked content to take it to penalties.

Anxious pub awaits penalties

Dorset Echo: Gareth Southgate chats to players before penalty shootout Gareth Southgate chats to players before penalty shootout

More people ordered drinks to calm their nerves. The next few minutes were going to be crucial, tense, and how we reflect on this Euro 2020 journey.

Hearts were beating out of chests as Harry Maguire and Harry Kane scored their penalties, while there were loud cheers when Jordan Pickford saved two of Italy’s penalties.

Misses from Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford led to the damning realisation that maybe football isn’t coming home, but instead Rome.

Jorginho’s miss proved to be a false dawn ahead of England’s fifth and final penalty.

Seeing Saka take the fifth penalty, I was nervous. He shouldn’t be taking that penalty, I cannot recall him taking a penalty for Arsenal and if he misses, I fear what’s going to happen for him.

When he missed, I felt awful for him. He is a 19-year-old player who has had a great season, wasn’t expected by some to be in the England squad, and has had a decent tournament.

I feared that this one moment would forget all of that. I was comforted by Kalvin Phillips running over to console a clearly dejected and distraught Saka, which was important. At moments like those, it’s important to be reassured and comforted by a friend or colleague.

The pub gasped and fell silent when we realised Italy had won Euro 2020.

There were shouts of disbelief and anger, but thankfully nothing sinister in the pub. Some people simply got up and left while others stood in shock.

It wasn’t the result we thought we were going to get and it was crushing.

Instead of watching the Italian celebrations and trophy lift, staff switched to a music channel. Maybe watching a Cardi B music video is better than watching scenes of sad England fans and players after all.

It was a time of reflection and one that was very sobering – what happened on Sunday evening and what happens next for this side?

Football didn't come home - but we need to reflect on what happened, appreciate squad's achievements and combat racism

Dorset Echo: England players line up on the halfway for the penalty shoot-out during the UEFA Euro 2020 Final at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday July 11, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER England. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PAEngland players line up on the halfway for the penalty shoot-out during the UEFA Euro 2020 Final at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday July 11, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER England. Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA

Gareth Southgate has had an excellent tournament up until this point, with his tactics and key decisions proving crucial to the side’s progression to the final.

He has largely taken the blame for England’s final defeat in a bid to deflect any blame from his players who have collectively had an impressive tournament.

It’s a squad that has inspired the nation on and off the pitch – from Marcus Rashford’s poverty and literacy campaigns, Jordan Henderson raised millions for the NHS and tweeting his support for LGBTQ rights, Raheem Sterling’s defiance against racism, as well as the side taking the knee before games.

Despite the political tensions and rhetoric as well as the pain and misery of a pandemic that has killed loved ones, this Three Lions squad has made our country proud. The squad represents the best of us and what we should aspire to be as humans.

My thoughts turned to the racist abuse following the game.

Any idea that England ‘fans’ should send racist abuse to one of Sancho, Rashford and Saka is just mind-boggling. If you were supporting these players over the last few weeks, why would you suddenly turn?

Dorset Echo: Fans filter home after Euro 2020 final defeatFans filter home after Euro 2020 final defeat

Why is it that my immediate thought after their misses that I feared about the abuse they would get online? 

For high profile figures to condemn the racist abuse, but not apologise for their own previous remarks or to not have a stance on players taking the knee against racism, it seemed hollow.

Why is it that someone tweeting a clip of Premier League football is nearly immediately taken down due to copyright yet racist abuse can go up unfiltered?

Clearly, something needs to change and call out racist abuse and ensure it's punished, as well as being self-policed out of stadiums and social media.

Overall, football wasn’t coming home, but instead, it connected a still mourning and divided nation.

The Three Lions made us dream and fall in love with football again.