How England’s young stars became the nation’s most loved heroes and changed the country’s attitude towards international football

I felt like a proud mother watching Raheem Sterling pull off his shirt and celebrate with confidence in front of the Hungarian supporters after his opener in last night’s World Cup qualifier.

Even more so when Harry Kane and others mimicked a wall around the footballer to protect him from the cups being thrown on the pitch, while Declan Rice chugged his first ever beer that had landed by his feet.

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After a summer of excitement, thrill and heartbreak, I can safely say on behalf of the majority of the country that we have all fallen in love with this England squad and when we see situations like yesterday’s disgusting racism we feel extremely protective over our players.

It wasn’t that long ago that football fans didn’t feel much of a connection with the England squad – or international football at all. You could travel up and down the country every week to watch Leeds United, or trek all over Europe following Chelsea, but as soon as an international tournament came along the passion would disappear.

But it’s not just the success and entertainment over the last few years that have caused this sudden change in attitude towards England, but more the players that have been representing us.

This England team are more than just footballers doing their job – each one has a story, a personality and a reason for why so many people idolise them.

Marcus Rashford is a prime example. While the Manchester United forward struggled for minutes doing the Euro 2020 tournament, Rashford’s dedication to helping the country’s children and poor families - and in turn doing an arguably better job than some of our politicians – has given him more support than anything on the pitch ever could.

Behind Mohamed Salah, Paul Pogba and Kevin De Bruyne, Rashford is the most followed Premier League star on all social media channels combined. The 23-year-old uses his platforms to help those in need and encourage his followers to do the same.

Similarly, Raheem Sterling impresses us all with his dealing of the abuse he receives. He speaks with his feet, scores the goals and - like last night - shuts up the racists with his talent and an England win.

Watching this England squad at the World Cup and at the Euros feels like watching your brothers have a kickabout - no pressure, just enjoying themselves.

These players are like best friends. We are no longer in the days where players would take their club rivalries into the England camp - instead we see photos and videos of the growing bond between the likes of Declan Rice and Mason Mount, as well as a centre-back partnership that consists of both halves of Manchester.

The friendships we see within the England squad is what gives us something to connect to, something to laugh at and something to talk about. We don’t want robots that play football, we want hugs, cheers and downing beer when we go 1-0 up against Hungary.

The boys have become like a family - a family that all England fans are part of. Most of them are just normal lads and, if they weren’t footballers, would be the ones sat in the pub singing about how Gareth Southgate turns them on while throwing their pint over someone’s head.

They are all such loyal supporters of this national team and you can see how passionate they are about playing for their country. There were days when even the players didn’t want to take part in international friendlies, but all these lads want to do is play football and do the rest of us proud.

The lack of success prior to this era of England players meant there was less pressure and lower expectations of the team - especially going into the World Cup. Nobody thought we would do so well and this group of talented, youthful footballers are who we have to thank for two of the best summers of our lives.

There are big things to come for the England squad in the coming years, but one of their biggest achievements to date is managing to get the entire country to fall in love with them after so many years of disappointment.

Has anyone started counting down the days till the 2022 World Cup yet? It’s coming home...