“THIS fifteen minutes will last 55 years,” the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, tweeted as the second half of extra time got under way on Wednesday night, and England sought to cling on to a 2-1 lead against Denmark in the semi-final of the Euros at Wembley Stadium.
Minutes earlier, England were awarded a penalty, after Raheem Sterling was brought down in the box. Kane’s shot was saved by the Denmark keeper, Kasper Schmeichel, but was placed in the back of the net on the rebound.
“Dodgy won pen and a badly taken one. But who cares?” the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, tweeted.
During the tense 120 minutes of football, the former Archbishop of York Lord Sentamu implored England’s players to maintain focus and composure, and, most importantly, score goals.
“Come on England! Please play more attacking football and don’t let your opponents disrupt your composure and rhythm,” he tweeted as the match got under way. He had noted on Tuesday evening that, in the other semi-final, Spain “played beautifully but lost in a penalty shoot out to Italy. England you must score goals galore during the 90 minutes.”
England did not score goals galore, as they had in the quarter final against Ukraine — in fact, the Danes scored first. But six minutes before half time England equalised, after Simon Kjær, attempting to fend off Sterling, kicked into the back of his own net.
At half-time, with the score 1-1, the Bishop of Sherwood, Dr Andrew Emerton, spoke for many who had memories of Euro 96 and Italia 90, when England crashed out after losing on penalties: “It’s going to be a stressful 2nd half … my teenage boys far too relaxed for my liking. They haven’t lived through enough England matches yet!”
Lord Sentamu counselled: “If I was in the dressing room what would I in my enthusiasm say to the remarkable England Manager Gareth Southgate? Please don’t delay in bringing on your substitutes. The whole team needs the Composure Harry Kane has demonstrated.”
It has not been confirmed whether Mr Southgate was reading the tweets, but, at 69 minutes, Lord Sentamu was able to tweet: “We now have our first substitution: Grealish let it pay. Please keep your composure!”
AlamyEngland fans celebrate outside Wembley Stadium after England’s victory in the Euro semi-finals on Wednesday night
As 90 minutes approached, Lord Sentamu implored: “Please it is not late for Henderson to come on! Come on England.” Little more than five minutes later, Henderson was on the pitch, replacing Declan Rice.
“I’ve just eaten twice my body weight in Maltesers out of nervous tension,” Bishop North tweeted as England struggled to find the net, and the prospect of another penalty shoot-out loomed. But then Sterling was down, and the penalty was successful. “Come on England ! Keep focussed and score soon! With you!” Lord Sentamu declared.
As England hung on to secure a place against Italy in the final on Sunday evening, Lord Sentamu tweeted: “Well done England ! You have made us all proud! You gave it your all! Many Thanks!@England.”
Bishops joined other fans in reacting with joy. The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, posted on Twitter a black-and-white picture of a small boy: “This is me when we last got into a major football final. . .”
The Bishop of Lancaster, Dr Jill Duff, drew attention to the Christian faith of two of England’s star players: Sterling and Saka. “My faith is constantly being exercised when I play in big football matches,” Saka has said.
On Thursday morning, the reality of England’s achievement seemed almost unbelievable to the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox: “Pinching myself that on Sunday night the Euro 2020 final will feature Italy against not France, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Portugal or the Netherlands — but England!”
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day on Thursday morning, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, said that, “after 55 years of disappointment”, the England team had “managed both to ignore a history most of them can’t remember and not be over-awed by the expectations of a hungry nation”.
He continued: “I don’t know if football really is coming home — we have to wait until Sunday night and the Italians to know that. But, if football is about passion, love, hope, longing, struggling — physical and mental fight — then it’s already home. Because that’s what this week and last night have proved as the emotional rollercoaster has been ridden to breaking point. And there’s more to come.
“I don’t know how I’m going to manage the final on Sunday. Probably with a copy of the Psalms on my knee — that wonderful collection of poems in which everything is given expression . . . from the depths of misery to the heights of promise.
“On the other hand, I might just use the opportunity to learn to pray better.”
The Bishop of Derby, the Rt Revd Libby Lane, the C of E’s lead bishop for sports, had prayed for the match on BBC 5 Live on Tuesday. “I don’t think I can actually ask God to make England win tomorrow, but I do think God knows that that’s what we really want,” she told the presenter, Mobeen Ahzar.
Bishop Lane’s prayer asked for continuing health and fitness for players, support staff, and fans. “As we celebrate the skill and resolve of those who compete, you know the desires of our hearts and all our hopes, including for England’s success. But we don’t pray for victory, though we might want to. Rather, we pray that striving for excellence will be marked by humility and fair play, and rooted in respect for others on and off the pitch. May our desire to win not overwhelm our common humanity, and may we finally find our hope and our peace in you.”
Setting the result aside, Bishop Lane’s prayer was answered.
Podcast: The character of Gareth Southgate’s England team, with Peter Crumpler