RARELY has England felt so divided. Politically, socially and economically, there have been times in the last couple of years when it has felt as though the country has been tearing itself apart. As if to underline the point, in the last 48 hours, it has felt as though the Government itself has been coming apart at the seams.

The Brexit vote has unleashed a torrent of difficult questions about who we are and what we want to be. Right against left, north against south, Brexiteer against remainer, the notion of one overarching English identity has been ripped apart by a series of diametrically-opposed traits.

What is there that brings us together anymore? Definitely not politics, as confirmed by this week’s events in the Palace of Westminster. Not really culture, with rampant globalisation having changed the way we live our lives. Food? Music? A shared world view? It’s hard to pin down what’s distinctly English about any of those.

Perhaps that’s why over the last decade or so, the notion of English nationalism has developed a distasteful relationship with the far right. In the absence of anything positive to latch on to, negative connotations of nationalism have been able to take hold.

Unlike nationalist movements in Scotland and Wales, which are portrayed as progressive, civic and inclusive, English nationalism has been hijacked by the bigots of the far right for their own divisive ends.

Yet it doesn’t have to be that way. At 7pm tomorrow, in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium and in pubs, community centres and living rooms the length and breadth of the land, we will experience a shared sense of Englishness that should make us all proud. Together, as one, we will celebrate or commiserate as 11 English footballers attempt to make the World Cup final. For 90 heart-stopping minutes – or this being England, 120 heart-stopping minutes plus another quarter-of-an-hour or so for penalties – we will be a unified nation once more.

“There’s been a connection with the team from the people of England,” said boss Gareth Southgate, in an interview with ITV. “I think what I’ve sensed over the last few years is that the country have wanted something to unite them.

“There have been some difficult moments for us as a country, and some questions for us to answer as a country, and the power of sport to unite is often the thing that brings people together. Of course football is the biggest of all sports, and the World Cup is the biggest of all football events, so to have been able to have had a positive impact on everybody back home and get them on the same page, even if only for brief moments of enjoyment and happiness, is very special.”

Who’d have thought a former Middlesbrough manager would be a more eloquent advocate of English patriotism than the politicians who have this week put personal vanity ahead of the national cause?

Southgate gets what the England team means and understands what his players have achieved no matter what happens in tonight’s game with Croatia.

Take last weekend for example, a sun-kissed couple of days when the nation celebrated as one as England achieved their best World Cup result for almost three decades.

From the tiniest of villages, with fans crammed into their local pub, to the huge open-air screens that turned city centres into a series of giant singalongs, there was a communal sense of belonging. We’re in this together, and football’s coming home.

It helps that the current England team presents such a positive view of the country it represents. After the failings of the supposedly ‘golden generation’, when personal fame and fortune appeared to trump the team collective, we are enjoying watching a humble, grounded set of predominantly young players who clearly the relish the chance to play on the world stage.

Geographically well spread in terms of their upbringing, and ethnically diverse, this is a group of players who truly represent us all. They speak of an ambitious, dynamic and welcoming England, comfortable in its own skin and not feeling the need to throw up barriers to create division.

Surely that’s the kind of country we’d all like to live in, and it helps explain why the successes of Southgate and his squad have struck such a chord.

Amid all the mess of the ‘real world’, football has provided a fantastic diversion. As Southgate stated, that is what sport can do, and it is surely no coincidence that the last similar swelling of national pride came during the London Olympics of 2012.

That came wrapped in the flag of Team GB, this time it is English nationalism receiving a shot in the arm. Whatever happens next, it is to be hoped the reawakening endures.