Looking forward – and back

FA Editor Jamie Bradbury blogs from the England camp in Denmark. The team have arrived at their hotel and enjoy their first training session…

It was an early start on Wednesday morning for all travelling to Denmark with the England team and for many, including myself, this is a third Under-21s Championship in four years.

Unfortunate news greeted us that Kieran Gibbs, who was one of the star performers for the Three Lions in Sweden two years ago, would not be joining us due to injury, while Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones were remaining on home soil until later in the day to seal transfers.

But aside from that, the drill was similar to two years ago. Not only the pre-tournament training camp in southern Spain last week that was followed by a comfortable victory in the send-off fixture, but also meeting point, flight and destination. Well almost.

Yet, even on arrival at Billund Airport, somewhere we’d been as recently as March for a friendly win over the hosts, it was a serious case of deja vu. No sooner had we set off for the hotel, our base for (hopefully) the next 18 days, than the heavens opened and down came the rain.

After a quick turn-around to unpack, we boarded the coach again for the first training session of the campaign.

While I sat in the protection of the stand at FC Fredericia, England’s tournament training ground, the rain was beating a tune on the metal roof. The players were fizzing the ball around quickly and were think only of the future, but like a favourite disco beat, or love song, I was instantly taken back. Taken back to the maiden session in Varberg in 2009 when similar conditions greeted us. The noise of that roof was throwing up images of Sweden in my mind, some good, some brilliant and some that, well, I’d sooner forget.

That tournament began in the rain and, for me in particular, it ended in another downpour.

It was the Final in Malmo, when I was sitting in the press box having just finished reporting on England’s 4-0 defeat to Germany and their influential talisman Mesut Ozil. That was hard enough in itself, but then the players walked up the steps and along the row directly behind me to the front of the directors’ box to receive their prize from Michel Platini.

The UEFA President helped skipper Sami Khedira to hold aloft the silverware that we’d had our eyes fixed on for the best part of a month and, boom, fireworks and gold ticker tape came raining from above.

For days after I was pulling out random bits of shiny plastic from my laptop bag, reminding me of a proud experience personally but a disappointing one ultimately.

But while there are certain similarities to the Finals in Sweden, there’s enough to suggest to even the most superstitious that this time around could end differently. Fingers crossed. Touch wood…

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Originally posted on TheFA.com on 8 June 2011