When the England team touched down in Krakow on Wednesday evening, it marked the true start of their UEFA EURO 2012 mission – and ours.
Standing on the tarmac as manager Roy Hodgson led his team off the plane, along the red carpet and onto the team bus, it soon hit home what covering the Three Lions at a major tournament was all about. The media interest was immense. Hordes of photographers were crammed into the press pen, but perhaps the best example of how England still wow wherever they go came from the group of schoolchildren on hand to welcome the team to Poland.
Apparently they had been asked to sing when the players disembarked, but our security guy told me: "This is England, so I expect they'll just scream." He was right. There was no mistaking who they had come to see, either. Captain Steven Gerrard and his colleagues were all given a warm reception, of course, but only one player was treated to his own personal cantata: "Rooney, Rooney, Rooney!"
Wayne Rooney was fantastic with the kids, as were the rest of the squad, who signed every flag, hat and shirt thrust in front of them by the awestruck youngsters. We heard on the radio on the way back that it had not been intended for England to greet with the children, especially after the Italians and the Dutch hadn't, so the fact they did so off their own backs went down a treat with the local media.
All this, along with the sunny weather and England moving up a place to fifth in the latest FIFA World Rankings, meant there was plenty to be positive about. Whether the good vibes continue when the real business of preparing begins, however, remains to be seen.
Never in my lifetime have England arrived at a major tournament under quite such a cloud of caution. Yet with so many personnel changes on and off the pitch over the past few weeks and months, nobody quite knows what to expect. Two narrow friendly wins against Norway and Belgium offered little insight into where Hodgson's side are in their early development, so a nation remains anxious to find out how they fare in their first group game against France.
Do England still have the quality to spring a surprise on Monday? Should Les Bleus be wary of a side shorn of several established performers? Let us know your views by adding your comments below …
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