I watched England win on penalties.
It took me a good 24 hours to calm down. I was so wired. That night I couldn’t sleep and the next day I had to ask myself if it was a dream. It took a five-hour stroll in Gorky Park to finally wind down.
Everyone will have their story, where they were, what they were doing when England finally broke the hoodoo and won on penalties. For me, I’ll always be grateful to say, I was sitting in the Spartak stadium, right above the all-important goal.
As I arrived at the stadium I was blown away by the Colombian support, if I wasn’t English I’ve had been supporting Colombia. Their fans were great and you couldn’t help getting swept up in the emotion of it all. I met one guy who’d driven from Brussels for this – he was living his dream.
I’m working for ESPN (and a few other media organisations) and it was my job to wrap up the game after it had finished. After Harry Kane’s penalty had put the score at 1-0 I saw Ryan Giggs pass me and head down to the pitch with about ten minutes to go and I was getting my stuff ready to do the same and head out towards my camera.
I had actually woven down a few floors of stairs already when something stopped me, I just had a funny feeling, so I climbed back up the stairs and went back onto the concourse and waited by the disabled access area, I just knew it.
And then it happened, the roar from the thousands and thousands of Colombian fans, they had done it, they were the 12th man, I just knew it. I couldn’t stop shaking my head and I had to sheepishly climb back into my seat. Oh England, you put us through this every time; we all knew you would do something like this. I couldn’t stop shaking my head.
Fast forward to penalties. I’d thought this through; I ‘d chosen my penalty takers. I knew that Southgate of all people would not want penalties to be the way to go. The headlines would be so cruel, not this man, not penalties. I know this is the last way he’d have wanted to go out, and I know how much they have prepared for this moment. They have re-created tension, they have a list of 23, nothing would be left to chance.
I’d been on the radio earlier that day and put on record that if it went to penalties, England would win, they’d be prepared this time, but I wasn’t feeling so confident now. It just felt like the typical England narrative, we were going home gutted, again.
If you look at Spain’s shambolic penalty shootout against Russia you’ll see Diego Costa telling Fernando Hierro not to give a penalty to Koke, and after it was saved you can see him mouthing: “I told you so”. There was no way Southgate would have had this with England. He admits in his autobiography that at Euro’96 when he was asked to take a penalty it was like a bolt out of the blue. He would not do that to his players.
And so it came to pass. Southgate’s plan starting to unfold before our eyes. As I watched Eric Dier walk towards the spot (who was actually next on the list because Jamie Vardy needed injections in his groin) I could hardly bare to watch, that walk took so long. I’d seen Henderson’s effort saved, I’d seen the Colombian’s celebrating and it just felt like it was prolonging the inevitable, we were going home. I was sitting next to a Colombian legend (Jorge Hernan Bermudez Morales) and I could feel the tension in the air between us, one of us was going home unhappy tonight.
I’m not even sure I remember seeing the ball hit the back of the net, I must have done, but the image was instantly replaced with a sea of red running away from the spot in celebration. We’d done it! We’d done it! I had the BBC crew in front of me and I saw them all rise from their seats punching the air, Dan Walker, Gabby Logan, Rachel Burden. These shiny professionals that we always see sitting calmly in a chair were leaping and whooping and dancing in the stands. It was a surreal moment to say the least and one I will never forget.
The weirdest part of it all is that England were a tiny, tiny pocket in the stadium, I’m sure if you were in that crowd it would have felt differently, but for me, at the other end of the pitch, it felt like I’d witnessed something quite special and there weren’t many people there to witness it in the flesh. Maybe it helped our players to be shooting into a pit of baying Colombians and not see the looks of hope on the England fans faces, who knows? It felt so odd outside the stadium too, a sea of yellow, small pockets of England fans but nothing more.
But who cares, we’d done it. I readied myself, microphone in hand, and said the lines I never thought I’d say. “We’ve just seen history being made here at the Spartak Stadium, England are into the Quarter finals after beating Colombia: ON PENALTIES.“