San Siro Stadium, Milan: The mood amongst England fans was one of disappointment after the Three Lions were relegated following a disastrous UEFA Nations League campaign. England lost to Italy 1-0 and were relegated from the top tier of the Nations League.
Italy, which didn’t qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, went ahead at the San Siro stadium in Milan when 22-year-old Giacomo Raspadori scored a 68th-minute winner from the edge of the area in between several England defenders.
Meanwhile, in another game, Germany lost at home to Hungary by the same score. At just two points from their first four games, with the style of football just as bad as the results, it speaks to the English fans’ loyalty that nearly five thousand made the trip to San Siro, with those unable to get a golden ticket to the away end instead settling for a place in the home end. The Italian Football Federation gave the English a hefty allocation to avoid this happening, but it wasn’t enough. Crosses of Saint George and Union Flags filled up the fences, bars, and shops around Milan’s Grand Canal.
There was a quiet optimism around the bars: “I think we’ll get a result against this lot,” was a common thing to hear. And why not? Since winning UEFA Euro 2020 after a final victory against the Three Lions, Italy has failed to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup; the English fans, as they took the journey on the metro from the city center, were keen to remind the Italians of that fact: “Just like Scotland, you’re staying at home!”
The members of the England Supporters’ Travel Club (ESTC), membership of which is necessary to go to England away games, pride themselves on their loyalty: while most English fans prefer to focus on their clubs and only pay real attention to the national side during the World Cup and Euros, the Nations League is their bread and butter. There is an unspoken rule amongst them, that no club shirts are worn in the ground: it’s all about England here, with Spurs fans applauding Bukayo Saka, and even Arsenal fans joining in the chant: “He looks good, he looks fine, Harry Kane’s on my mind, and he’s England’s number nine!” Meanwhile, the rest of the stadium seemed deserted, with the locals showing exactly what they thought of a national team that hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 2014.
On to the football, and the noise and energy were soon taken out of the England fans, who had spent the whole trip in Milan partying and found the football to be the least entertaining part. A drab first half ended with the score goalless. At least with Hungary beating Germany in the other game, that would be enough to give England the chance to stay up. But it wasn’t to be, with Giacomo Raspadori’s impressive long-range strike giving the European champions a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The hard feelings were known as the players came to applaud the travelling fans at full time. They were met with stony silence until manager Gareth Southgate appeared, when the air was filled with boos.
Just over a year ago, when Southgate led England to the final of the Euros, everyone sang his name: “Southgate, you’re the one, you still turn me on, and football’s coming home again!” That familiar chant was noticeably absent in Milan, and the conversation on social media showed the mood was the same back home. With so many exciting (and expensive) attacking names holding English nationality: Kane, Sterling, Sancho, Saka, Rashford, Mount, Foden, Bellingham, Grealish, and a whole lot more coming through, when you get that group of players to only score one goal in five games, that being a penalty, you inevitably get criticized.
For the members of the ESTC, it’s a plane back home before England, now already relegated, plays against Germany at a sold-out Wembley: the loyalty really knows no bounds. But their patience is running thin: if they play like this at the World Cup in two months’ time, Southgate will be out of a job.
The author is a student at the London School of Economics.