LIVING up in the very Spanish mountain town of Ronda means there are no English bars… and every football-loving expat we know had, predictably, gone down to the coast. Including our teenage daughter!

So having firstly toyed with the idea of watching it at a friendly Italian pizzeria and then booked the terrace of a local restaurant, we decided we would be far happier at home with Auntie Beeb and good old Gary Lineker.

For starters we could scream (and then cry) without any Italians or Spanish around to laugh and, secondly, to watch the build-up in English. Oh, and the Wimbledon final before it.

It turned out to be a great evening, despite my father-in-law randomly deciding to support Italy 15 minutes before the game, despite being a dyed in the wool monarchist and playing cricket for the British army and Surrey. He did live in Italy for two decades, I suppose, and he could see it coming. And he was right.

But what a month – and tournament – it’s been. 

Having watched the largely unmemorable group stages on the coast, where we live in the week, we headed off on holiday to Italy with no idea that there was a chance England would play a game there.

It was only as we prepared to watch Italy versus Austria in the charming main square of Ceglie, in Puglia, that we saw the permutations that could take us to Rome.

We worked out that if we beat Germany a few days later (a big if, mind) England would be heading to the quarter finals in Italy’s amazing capital city. With both kids gagging for another trip to the Eternal city and the wife shrugging her shoulders, I booked a great-value apartment for two nights.

I had no idea if we would get tickets for the game, but given no English supporters could travel to Italy and it is not swamped with expats like Spain, I figured we would have a chance.

I got on every fan group and Facebook page and eventually located three tickets for 200 euros each. A lot, but not extortionate.

But just before buying them I got a superb bit of advice from the Olive Press’ salesman extraordinaire Charlie Bamber, a keen travelling England fan, who told me that UEFA would be releasing some more tickets the following day.

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Jon Clark (right) and Charlie Bamber (left) with a friend watching the game in Rome.

He told me I had to register with the official website, putting in my passport details and where I lived (if you had an English address you were automatically stopped from buying) and he would tip me off at the right time.

And so it came to pass, I got the phone call by the pool at 4pm the next day when 1,800 tickets went out on general sale at cost price. Amazingly I was able to secure four tickets for just 75 euros each. Even the missus, who had only seen one other live game in her life before (a wet and windy draw between Tottenham and Bolton 25 years ago) would be coming.

So there we were, in Rome, having taken antigen tests and passing through seven, yes seven, security checks to watch England v Ukraine in the quarter finals.

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What a game, what an experience. We blew them away and guess who was sitting in the row in front? Yes, Charlie Bamber. He gets about.

But what was incredible was the amount of expat Brits who had travelled from all over Spain to the game. The flights to Rome, to Milan, to Naples, etc, etc, were full of England fans, who could legally watch their team in a massive game. 

We did the team proud, making an incredible racket… and who was interviewed live on Sky News by the Trevi Fountain? Mr Bamber, of course.

Having sung for Spain in the heart of Positano against Italy in the semis (what an injustice), we came back and watched England in Puerto Banus against Denmark.

The best England performance for years, we had made a final for the first time in 55 years!

What a game, but now we had to meet the tactical masters of the game. The trickiest, most slippery bunch of streetwise footballers there are.

Italy were played off the park by Spain (but won on penalties), only just overcame Austria in extra time, and squeezed past Wales… but they always seem to win. A bit like Germany used to.

My father-in-law had predicted a 2-1 win. I knew we would lose if it got to penalties. We almost always do.

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Back at home in Ronda for the final.

Local friends Lisa and Andy, not huge football fans but up for it nonetheless, watched the agony and ecstasy of supporting England this Sunday. The term; that Monday morning feeling, was never more apt.


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