“Just give me a minute Dad, I’m trying to soak it up alright?”
This was the plea of one England fan as as we left the Samara Arena on Saturday afternoon after witnessing the latest chapter in this extraordinary World Cup run.
But as the fan staggered and swayed around the emptying arena through the exit gates, it was clear he wasn’t alone.
England fans in Russia, and probably back home, are starting to resemble that type of player that never scores but when he does, doesn’t know how to actually celebrate.
We have become a nation of Tony Hibberts.
There’s joy, a hell of a lot of it, a lot of screaming, fist pumping, but also an element of confusion. Is this real life, or is it just fantasy? Because here in Russia, something about it seems to becoming just a happy blur of raw emotion.
The addition of seeing a Gareth Southgate lookalike being mobbed after the game in the crowd adds to this notion that we are currently living in some weird parallel universe, where things are familiar but not quite as your brain remembers them.
It’s a special time to be an England fan wherever you are – back home it apparently hasn’t rained for about three years, streets are being filled with the sort of carnival atmosphere we haven’t experienced in decades, and more beer has been thrown into the air than down the throats of the population.
For the lucky few thousand in Samara, the whole weekend has been a privilege.
From the beauty of the ‘Helipad’ outside the city centre looking across the Volga River to the beach, yes, a beach in Russia, a five minute walk from the FIFA fan park, even regardless of the match there was a lot to love about Samara.
Even before the match, England fans were in a celebratory mood – one bar on Ulitsa Kuybysheva was heaving with supporters, who were treated by the DJ to the now familiar sounds of Atomic Kitten and, naturally, Baddiel & Skinner.
Come matchday, and fans seemed to be in more of a relaxed mood than Tuesday night’s fixture against Colombia – that game felt nervous and tense before the game.
In Samara, it was jovial and good-natured as fans exchanged songs on the way to the ground.
The English belted out ‘You’re sh*t, but your birds are fit’, while the Swedes responded with ‘Go home to your ugly wives’. Both songs really could do with some work, in all honesty.
Then came the game itself – in hindsight, it seems like a routine 2-0 victory. A Harry Maguire header, a Dele goal, thanks for coming, see you in a couple of years.
But inside the stadium, there was a genuine sense for the first time this tournament that actually, d’you know what, football might actually be coming home. The fans sang their hearts out throughout, Gareth Southgate led the supporters in a rendition of that song, and 30 minutes after the final whistle, the players emerged from the tunnel to meet their families who were still stationed in the stands.
We all know and acknowledge that there is something different about this bunch of players.
But as the tournament has progressed, the ‘It’s coming home’ moniker has gone from being a meme to an actual possibility. We’re now into the semi-finals, and we’re second favourites for the World Cup.
And in this strange haze of not exactly knowing what’s going on, or how to celebrate getting this far in the tournament, who knows what happens or how we’ll celebrate if we beat Croatia on Wednesday.
But in reality, who cares? England are in a World Cup semi-final, and that’s all that matters.