Waking up on Monday morning, after a heady month defined by English footballing success, it was hard to come to terms with the familiar old sting of a defeat on penalties. It was evident from Gareth Southgate’s press conference that the squad had given their all, and were emotionally, as well as physically, exhausted.

It was made worse by the growing realisation that some people claiming to be England fans had disgraced themselves with their behaviour on the night and online. To think there are those among us who would target our own players with disgusting abuse over the colour of their skin and their heritage is a reminder of how much more needs to be done to eradicate the stain of racism not only from our beloved national game, but from our society. In the words of our captain Harry Kane, these people are not England fans and we don’t want them.

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But I don’t want to speak any more about the behaviour of racist individuals, who have already been drowned by a wave of support for the Three Lions Saka, Sancho and Rashford. The story of this summer is not about the racists. It is about leadership, pride, character, ability and courage. These are the hallmarks of this young and emerging team who are defining modern England and allowing us to dream again.

I remember Italia 90 and Euro 96. Tournaments like this stay with you, the goals, the agony, the excitement and the hope. This time though feels different, more of a beginning than an end. England have reached a semi-final and now a final in successive tournaments. Our squad was the youngest of any at these Euros. We can be both grateful for the moments they have given us already, while looking to the future with excitement and optimism.

So much of this is down to a leader that has united people. Gareth Southgate has approached his work with dignity, bravery, honesty and humility. He listens and is respectful. He has shown huge loyalty to his players. He was rewarded by the team showing the kind of spirit and desire in an England shirt that inspired fans of every age and background. We can all learn lessons from the way he, his staff and this squad have conducted themselves.

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So I say thank you to Gareth, the players and all involved with giving us a summer filled with joy, and perhaps, a future filled with hope and glory.

  • Peter Taylor is Elected Mayor of Watford