As we wallow in our cereal this morning and drag ourselves into school after last night’s devastating result, we must still remember the incredible sense of pride that the England men’s football team has given us – for both their football and what they stand for.
Indeed, in 2021, rather than the footballing egos of the past, we have a team of humble young men who use their platform in a way that allows every person watching to see themselves as valid. And who, despite all adversity, stand strong, fight injustice, wear Pride armbands and refuse to let criticism divert them from their course of action.
I have never been prouder of the football team that represents my country. They are a group of individuals that we can all learn from and strive to emulate as a society – including by using the players to inspire students with the ideals they represent.
Euro 2020: England's great role models for school pupils
1. Raheem Sterling
For years, Sterling has been met with media vitriol. He has been criticised for being "obsessed with bling", for buying his own mother a house "despite never starting a Premier League match", and had vile, racist monkey chants and gestures thrown his way by those in the stands who call themselves "fans" of the international team.
In spite of all of this, he continues to be a positively influential figure in football whom Gary Lineker referred to as "an intelligent, assured and measured voice for good in our game and society".
Sterling makes it OK to be an incredibly talented, young, male footballer who puts his head above the parapet and uses his status to stand against racism and other injustice. He shows compassion, integrity and inclusivity at his core. These are all wonderful traits to promote to our pupils.
2. Harry Kane
While in Russia, Harry Kane was the hero of the team, scoring six goals in the tournament and earning the Golden Boot.
Yet this year he faced criticism during the group stages for falling to score. Many put it down to the outside pressures of a potential club move, and others put it down to him simply not being good enough.
However, during the knock-out stages, Kane was a prominent figure on that pitch with his goal, and his influence on the other players – particularly Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden in their very first moments in the spotlight – was clear.
Kane is a big player, and he brings with him a history of heroism. But this time, he’s been happy to pass that baton on and to work quietly in order to bring about success for the greater good. That's a message always worth sharing.
3. Mason Mount
Mason Mount is a big name in the Premier League as a rising star in his early twenties, but he refuses to let his success, so early on in his life, cloud his humanity and compassion.
During the England-Denmark match, he sought out a young girl in the crowd and handed her his shirt – not for credit or acclaim but to make a young fan happy. His selflessness and emotional intelligence is a model for many others to be made aware of.
4. Marcus Rashford
We've been talking about Rashford for a long time now beyond the world of football for his work making politicians undertake U-turn after U-turn for children without privilege. His iconic status could have propelled his ego beyond reach – but he refused to allow it.
Furthermore, he has continued to act with dignity, team spirit, and – despite being the nation’s hero off the pitch – he has clearly not harboured resentment for those more frequently on the pitch during the tournament.
He is yet another member of our squad who sees his status as a way to positively advocate for those with more need than him, whose success has not made him forget where he came from and whose role as a footballer is not just to score goals.
5. Jack Grealish
On every match day throughout this tournament, I’ve heard at least one utterance of "He’s got to start Grealish, surely?" and yet, for every match, he was on the bench at kick-off. However, there’s not been one bit of evidence of a sulky moment when he selfishly wished had been on the pitch for longer.
Even against Denmark in the semi-final, when he could have been slapped with the usually embarrassing label of a "sub that got subbed" after only being brought on in the 69th minute, it was clear Grealish knew his substitution was the right decision as he considered the bigger picture. The epitome of professionalism, a true team player and a lesson for pupils everywhere.
Our international men’s football team are no longer a symbol of ego and wealth, but a microcosm for exactly what society should be, of how schools should encourage every one of their pupils to be and who we – as classroom teachers and school leaders – can learn from every day.
Kaley Riley is head of English at Shirebrook Academy in Derbyshire and director of HoD and Heart education consultancy.