How will history remember Euro 2020?
Has the dust settled yet from the events of the final of the European Championships? If you’re an England fan, probably not. The good news is that they say time heals the past. So, when it becomes less painful to reminisce, how will the history books look back at this year’s tournament?
The year football almost, almost came home
A retrospective Anglo-centric view of the tournament will surely remember Euro 2020 as the time when England came closer than ever before in their quest to salve 55 years of hurt. The Three Lions reached their first major international tournament final since 1966 and missed out on lifting the trophy by the most agonisingly narrow of margins: the dreaded penalty shootout. However, when England fans overcome the heartbreak of missing out on home turf, history will speak of the demons of old that Gareth (perhaps by that time Sir Gareth) Southgate’s team slayed. In 2018 he proved for the first time in 22 years that England can win a penalty shootout, knocking out Colombia in the Round of 16. This year his England side vanquished two more ghosts: Germany in knockout games and being unable to go further than the semi-finals. Haunted by both of these for 55 years, England broke off the shackles that had bound them for so long. Now only one remains: winning a tournament. Qatar 2022 anyone?
The bigger picture of course is that Euro 2020 will be remembered around Europe for Covid-19’s impact, not least in the fact that the tournament back a year to 2021 whilst retaining the confusing Euro 2020 branding. Even 12 months later the effects of coronavirus plagued the tournament: cancelled venues, drastically restricted crowd numbers in many stadia and self-isolating players. It is almost guaranteed that remembering Euro 2020 will forever be synonymous with Covid. What is less certain is if historians will ever get to the bottom of why none of Billy Gilmour’s Scotland teammates had to self-isolate, but two of England’s did? If they ever do, Gareth Southgate would love to know the answer.
If Wales were the darlings of Euro 2016 in France, Denmark stole the hearts of Euro 2020. This is all because of one man: Christian Eriksen. People will never forget the moment when Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during Denmark’s first game against Finland. This horrific moment grounded a tournament that was not even 24 hours old. Europe waited in stunned silence as the Danish players formed a protective shield around Eriksen as he received life-saving treatment on the field. It was a stark reminder that football is just a game. Thankfully Christian is now okay and the Danes rallied without arguably their best player to play the rest of Euro 2020 in his honour, creating a spirit that oozed through TV screens across Europe. Denmark lost their first two games but made it into the knockout rounds through an enthralling, dramatic 4-1 victory over Russia. Very rarely does an underdog surf on the crest of a wave of spirit and unity all the way to the title, and the Danes were denied a repeat of 1992 by England in the semi-final. However, history will forever remember those magical Danes.
Football is almost nothing without fans
The fallout of the failed European Super League may have been now forgotten by the press, but it hasn’t by the fans. Because of the pan-European hosting format, which saw 11 host nations/cities, Euro 2020 offered us the stark difference between nearly empty stadiums and full stadiums. It wouldn’t take a mastermind to guess which stadia held the most memorable games! A full Puskás Aréna and Parken stadium playing host to crazy, beer-throwing goal celebrations was a huge reminder to the footballing authorities that football is a shell of its former self without the fans. Will a post-vaccination world of full stadiums thwart any future attempt at a European Super League, or will the prospect of such a breakaway loom large regardless? Only time will tell.
Turning point for VAR?
Will Euro 2020 be remembered as the turning point for VAR – especially in England? The past two seasons have seen the application of video assistant refereeing (VAR) routinely scrutinised and villainised. However, there appeared to be a resounding agreement by British pundits that VAR had been implemented far more effectively throughout Euro 2020, complemented by a far higher standard of officiating by referees. This led to fewer stoppages in play, a less pedantic system to decide offsides and a greater reluctance to overturn on-field decisions. VAR still might not be every Englishman’s cup of tea, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that before its introduction in the Premier League, pundits on shows such as Match of the Day were calling for the technology every time an erroneous decision was made. Will history remember this as the turning point for VAR, especially in the English game, where the system had ironed out its kinks and became an asset to the game in fans’ eyes?
Conclusion: How will Euro 2020 impact the future?
This leads on to my final thought: what will the practical outcomes be of Euro 2020?. One prediction I’ll offer is an increased interest in Serie A, Italy’s top division. Five of the players who made the Team of the Tournament played in Serie A at the dawn of the competition, and many other eye-catching players like Mæhle and Gosens also play in Italy. Much like the 2014 World Cup increased interest in the Bundesliga, perhaps Euro 2020 will do the same for Serie A. Also, will the occasion of Scotland v England, alongside the unheralded atmosphere generated at Wembley for all of the games hosted there, renew interest in reviving a home-nations style tournament to replace some of the duller friendlies?
Alas, even after all this, history can remember events in many unpredictable ways. How do you think subsequent generations will look back at Euro 2020?
By Steven Bishop
Steven is researching the recent protests against statues of controversial historical figures across the world, focusing on the complex relationship between history and memory. His other historical interests include the history of the United States of America, especially the period from colonisation to the Civil War. He also have a burgeoning interest in local history and write about Colchester’s many heritage sites in Colchester United’s matchday programme.