I was in Wembley for the Euro 2020 final back in July when events off the pitch stole the headlines.
As an independent review has found that an England win over Italy could have led to 6,000 ticketless individuals storming the stadium with “horrific” consequences, here’s what I made of those atmosphere, writing in the direct aftermath in London:
“You can stick your f****** pasta…” Well, you get the idea.
As Italian supporters piled out of Wembley in the early hours of Monday morning, carefully navigating a path through the mass of broken glass, empty beer cans and other rubbish strewn across the ground, they were ‘welcomed’ onto the tube heading back into central London by banks of noisy England fans.
An hour or so earlier, Gareth Southgate had shown how to lose with dignity and class. Moments after Gianluigi Donnarumma had pushed away Bukayo Saka’s penalty, he walked to the Italian bench, seeking out Roberto Mancini and his backroom staff, offering congratulations.
Southgate leaves this tournament as a statesman-like figure. It is his emphasis on simple things like decency and respect. He has done much to transform the team, on the pitch and off it, building a bond between fans and players, making a country proud of its footballers again.
The problem is, there is little he can do to make his country loved by others. England don’t have many friends abroad. Nights like this, and the behaviour of some - it really is only some - show why.
In recent times, this England team has been an example of the good in society. It is embodied by Marcus Rashford, a shining light of our time, twisting defences one day, turning government policy the next, filling young people with food and with hope. Or Harry Kane, leading the line for his country while leading the fight off the pitch to save local football fields.
Tyrone Mings’ work in the Players Together campaign raised funds for the NHS; Raheem Sterling has taken aim with purpose, not just in the penalty box but at online racists.
But the national team also brings out the worst of wider society, a lightning rod for a fringe element that big tournaments such as this seem to draw.
It was brewing from late morning on Sunday, as several thousand took over Leicester Square. Hope was in the air, but also beer bottles, and a tree which had been uprooted and hurled at a Burger King outlet, shattering a window.
An England fan, shirtless, can in hand, clambered onto a first-floor balcony, drawing cheers, only to beat a hasty retreat when the crowd soon got bored of his antics and started unloading a volley of missiles in his direction.
Mostly it was harmless. At least it seemed harmless. England fans think they are harmless, but to many they don’t look harmless, particularly when abroad, with their bare chests, carryouts, flags pinned to the walls, taking over city squares in the manner of an occupying army.
At Wembley, as kick-off neared, the area outside became a scene of chaos and carnage. Many without tickets had arrived, those heading to the game having to push their way through thick crowds. Already the ground was sticky with spilt beer and the air heavy with apprehension. I had covered every Wembley game over the last month but, for the first time, this just didn’t have the right feel or atmosphere.
As kick-off neared, and the crowd swelled and choruses of the Ten German Bombers song grew louder, some tried to force their way into the stadium, some succeeding, finding their way to seats and cramming into spaces.
At the same time an FA statement was being hurriedly issued saying no security breaches had taken place, one Uefa volunteer was reporting “50 to 100” ticketless fans in his section. “We are volunteers, we are not meant to be stewards,” he said. He questioned what was happening in other areas of the ground. It was obvious some were beyond capacity. One area to the left of the end England were attacking in the first half looked particularly overrun.
For such a big occasion, and with the host nation reaching the final, the policing operation was woefully ill-prepared. Wembley Way is a bottleneck at the best of times, hemmed in by hotels and cafes. You have to question why ticketless fans were allowed so close to the ground.
All this, of course, during a pandemic.
Video footage showed a handful of despairing volunteers chasing after dozens of people who had forced their way through one gap, before spreading out in every direction.
In another, three stewards, hopelessly outnumbered, can be seen trying to hold back another charge of the Three Lions brigade, before being overrun.
As the teams took to the pitch, the Italian anthem was jeered - naturally. Towards the end of the 90 minutes, a man - topless, naturally - evaded the security and invaded the pitch.
You did fear what an England defeat might mean, but as Saka’s penalty was pushed away and Giorgio Chiellini strode forward to lift the trophy, it was largely calm.
There were queues of more than two hours - via discarded rubbish and smashed glass - to reach the tube station a few hundred yards away and board crammed trains bound for central London, amid unsavoury chants about pasta and other elements of Italian culture.
Elsewhere, in Withington, near Manchester, a mural of Rashford, who had missed in the shootout, was vandalised within an hour of the game finishing.
In the moments after Saka’s missed penalty which cost England so dearly, as Southgate was reaching out a comforting arm, consoling the distraught teenager, others were reaching for their keyboards, jabbing messages of spite.
On Monday morning, in a Zoom briefing, Southgate addressed the abuse forcefully.
“For some of them to be abused is unforgivable, really. I know a lot of that has come from abroad. The people who track those things have been able to explain that - but not all of it, and it is just not what we stand for,” he said.
"People should be able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everyone, and so that togetherness has to continue. We have shown the power our country has when it does come together and has that energy and positivity together.”
On the issue of how to address the wider issue of fans who are disrespectful, abusive and violent, he added: “We can’t control that, we can only set the example that we believe we should, and represent the country in the way that we feel that we should when you are representing England.”
This was the day when football was supposed to come home. Instead, some truths hit home.
England have ambitions of hosting the World Cup in 2030.
After a night like this, you would have to ask, why bother?