We’ve come a long way

FA Editor Jamie Bradbury blogs from the England camp in Denmark. Today is matchday and it’s been a long journey from Macedonia to Denmark…

The first few days in Denmark have been good. We have a nice environment to work and relax in and the players themselves seem to be very happy at Kellers Park.

There’s an inevitable clamour for media access, what with Sky Sports and Sky Sports News covering the team closely, and the radio and written press giving a great deal of insight to fans back home.

On a daily basis Team Press Officer Scott Field and I have been taking players and the coach to speak to the various members of the press corp; James Tomkins, Marc Albrighton, Fabrice Muamba, Daniel Sturridge, Michael Mancienne and Ryan Bertrand have all spoken well about their hopes and belief in what they can achieve in Denmark.

Around the hotel, the lads have been spending time watching DVDs, playing on the Xbox or Wii. They’ve been for walks to the quiet Marina five minutes down the hill, chilled in the spa – I’m planning my maiden visit later – or sat around chatting in the team office, medical room or kit room, where You Tube is regularly streaming so funny clip or another (Keenan Cahill and this bizarre penalty particular favourites).

The FA staff set up in the office here, myself, Carol, Kelly, Jane, Steve and Ashley are often being kept company by the lads – probably because we have Sky Sports News on the TV. Nathan Delfouneso has his own seat in here, Henri Lansbury likes taking my camera and snapping his team mates, while yesterday Jordan Henderson and Danny Rose came to have a look at all the pictures I have taken in training and around the hotel.

Everything is set up so the players themselves can concentrate on what they are here to do.

So, here we are. It’s matchday. England v Spain. This is what we’ve all been waiting for since the 0-0 draw in Romania in October. But it began for us over a year before that in Macedonia in the first outing of the campaign.

The dust had only just settled on the 4-0 defeat to Germany in the Final of the 2009 campaign and Stuart Pearce was planning for a new beginning. Prilep in Macedonia was our first destination and what an experience that was. Not somewhere I’d have picked for a holiday, but certainly a pleasant and welcoming place and we were there to pick up what should have been a routine opening win.

With eight players in the starting eleven who’d been with the squad in Sweden that summer, I was relaxed sitting in the ‘press box’ with Scott, despite being surrounded by local fans, and expected us to fly out of the blocks.

So at half-time, a goal down, on a bobbly and hard pitch, in temperatures suited to barbeques and beaches, we were a long way from Denmark. Then up popped Freddie Sears, on as a half-time sub, to level and Lee Cattermole’s penalty seven minutes from time put the train back on track.

And we’ve come a long way. Tripoli in Greece, Coventry, Wembley, Vilnius in Lithuania, Doncaster, Barcelos in Portugal, Colchester (my hometown), Norwich and Botosani in Romania before arriving here on the banks of the Vejle Fjord in Denmark.

There have been times when our destiny was seriously questioned; that game in Macedonia, the 0-0 draw in Lithuania and the 2-1 defeat in Doncaster to the eventual group winners Greece. And on leaving the Keepmoat, we had a six-month wait until we could take on the remaining qualifiers in Portugal and the return against Lithuania. Two must-win matches.

So when we gathered for the August friendly in Bristol there was a fresh feel around the group. What had gone had gone and the focus was on effectively two knock-out games to reach the play-offs. The starting team in Portugal a month later featured just two players from the Euro 2009 squad, while Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones made their competitive debuts.

What followed gave everyone belief; the players, the staff, the fans. Wins over the Portuguese and Lithuania booked a place in the play-offs, then a win and a draw against Romania sealed England’s third consecutive appearance at the UEFA Under-21 Championship Finals. A record unmatched.

But just being in Denmark for a tournament that is grabbing people’s attention here and back home is not enough. The two previous eliminations, in the semis in Holland and the Final in Sweden, were heartbreaking. Spending time away from your family is hard enough, but when you don’t stay the distance it’s even worse.

Looking around at the players here, though, and having seen what they have done to resurrect a team close to not making it, I’m full of confidence. Talking to them, watching them in training, seeing how they bond, this is not just a group of talented individuals, but a talented group.

Matchday is what it’s all about and I can’t wait for the action to start.

If you have any questions for me you can either email editor@thefa.com or via www.twitter.com/jamiebradbury 

You can also get the latest by ‘liking’ England Under-21s on Facebook.

Originally posted on TheFA.com on 12 June 2011