Laughter, tears and treats – inside the camp with the Three Lions

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July 10, 2021
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    Kelly Somers

    When the full-time whistle went at Wembley on Wednesday, I, like the rest of the nation felt an overwhelming swell of jubilation, relief, and if I'm honest, utter disbelief.

    This is the first English men's team to reach a final since 1966 (in case you hadn't heard).

    But not only that, I also felt an immense sense of pride that it was this group of players, with this manager and support staff, that had written their names into the history books.

    As BBC Sport's England reporter, I've been following this team for more than four weeks now – from before a ball was kicked against Croatia. Back then, a reporter who's been covering England for a lot longer than me described them as having bottled up what they'd started in Russia. Somehow, three years in it seems they've managed to mix it up to come up with something even more special.

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    'Southgate you're the one' – leading by example

    Kelly Somers and Gareth SouthgateKelly Somers has been BBC Sport's England reporter throughout Euro 2020

    On day one, Gareth Southgate stood in front of the media at St George's Park, thanking them in advance for their support and explaining his awareness of what his position means to people – that every time England play, they have an opportunity to create new memories for fans that last a lifetime. He told his players that and, from what we've seen on the pitch, it's a message that's been heeded.

    He's a man that's not afraid to put his head above the parapet and make his voice heard. In every interview, and even in passing conversation, he's always articulate, engaging and thoughtful (demonstrated perfectly in his answer to me at full-time of the Germany game about the personal pain he's suffered since infamously missing that penalty in 1996), and his players are too.

    Laughter, tears and superstitions – getting to know the Three Lions

    Every day, having watched the first 15 minutes of training, we get ten minutes (no longer due to covid restrictions) in our outdoor tent facility, built especially to comply with regulations, keeping strictly three metres between myself and the player.

    One of my favourite interviews has been with 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, who told me about growing up in the shadow of Wembley, and then how he went on to get the equivalent of As and A*s at GCSE level six months before he made his Arsenal debut.

    What you didn't see in that, thankfully for me, was my attempt at starting the interview by calling his nickname, little chilli, in French. I spent ages practicing the accent but managed to, somehow, get a letter wrong. Needless to say, he thought it was hilarious and asked me to repeat it multiple times. I'm hoping our editor has shredded that footage.

    When I sat down with Jack Grealish after the Scotland game, I didn't just want to address the constant clamour for him to get on the pitch – I also wanted to delve a little bit deeper, to get to know more about the lad with the rolled down socks and slicked back hair.

    I'd been acutely aware of how close he was to his family and how he has a sister with cerebral palsy, as well as the fact he'd suffered the unthinkable tragedy of losing his brother, so instead I simply asked about what it was like growing up in the Grealish household.

    He opened up about their incredible support but also the way his mum has to support his sister, Rosie, who he described as his best friend. He asked me after if I was purposefully trying to make him cry as he could feel himself getting emotional. He then also told me she was coming to the game against the Czech Republic, which he went on to start, and he was visibly so desperate to make her proud.

    I've also learned about the bracelet Kieran Trippier was wearing which was given to him by his young daughter, Luke Shaw's lucky slippers and Phil Foden's fear of watching penalties – our chats have been wide ranging, entertaining, and most of all – enjoyable.

    The only defeat of the campaign – life inside the camp

    Kelly Somers and England forward Mason MountKelly Somers played England midfield Mason Mount at darts after carrying out an interview

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    The players don't just stop by for interviews, either.

    Whichever player is doing the press conference also takes on a member of the media at darts before. I was up in week one and, far from an expert, I somehow managed to beat Mason Mount. I said to him after that it was OK as long as that's the only defeat he suffers this week – now I'm hoping it's his only defeat all tournament.

    I am also constantly hearing tales of how well equipped their personal spaces at St George's Park are. From putting photos of their families in their rooms, to providing basketball courts and table tennis tables, this is an environment that's been carefully cultivated.

    At the right times there are also permitted treats too – and I don't just mean in the form of Ed Sheeran coming in for a private performance.

    In the first week we spotted an ice cream van going in. I conveniently introduced myself to the van owner, and managed to swindle one to 'try' before he reached the players. We also found out later in an interview with Kalvin Phillips that a pic 'n' mix stand went in (he opted for sweets, snakes being his favourites), ensuring all of the players were catered for.

    Whatever happens on Sunday, one of the biggest takeaways this summer should be that we now have an English national team to be proud of, both on and off the pitch. They have personality, pride and purpose.

    I always want England to win. But I especially want 'this' England team to win.


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    July 10, 2021
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