He was not alone. Home Secretary Priti Patel berated the England team for engaging in “gestural politics”. Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the most prominent figures in the ruling Conservative Party, called it “problematic” to kneel down. Prime Minister Boris Johnson supported the fans who booed the players when they did.
But a month later, a lot has changed. Ms Patel was pictured wearing an English jersey. Mr Johnson started wearing one with his name on the back. This week, Mr Rees-Mogg – more inclined to quote classical writers – recited the rap section of World In Motion, a 30-year-old English song, in Parliament.
The group Atomic Kitten are best known for “Whole Again”, a number one single in 2001 that has long been adapted by English fans as a tribute to team coach Gareth Southgate. A new version, hastily registered recently, made its way into the Top 40 a few hours after its release, and then reached 24th place. Several other songs reminiscent of the European Championships also climbed the charts.
On the contrary, the audience that English games attract is even more eye-catching. ITV, the channel that broadcast the semi-final against Denmark, drew a peak of 27 million viewers, about as many as those who attended Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding ceremony in 2011, and much more than to attend the wedding, seven years later, of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Euro 2020 has become, in other words, a moment of true national unity. It is not without precedent. In the English imagination, the nation has bonded around football at least twice before: in 1996 and 30 years earlier, when it won the World Cup. There is, however, a significant difference this time around.