THE emotions come in a swirling maelstrom.

Typical bloody England. If only Harry Kane’s shot had gone in. If only Jesse Lingard had curled the ball half a foot lower. If only John Stones had directed his header into the corner of the net rather than straight at a back-pedalling Croatian defender.

It’s Chris Waddle hitting the inside of the post or Gazza stretching during Euro 96 all over again. Ifs, buts, maybes. What might have been instead of what has actually played out in front of your eyes. Typical bloody England, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory once again.

That’s the immediate reaction, and it’s one that’s ingrained in us. It’s Diego Maradona and the so-called ‘Hand of God’ that was actually a blatant form of cheating. It’s Waddle’s penalty sailing over the crossbar or Gareth Southgate’s rolled almost apologetically towards Andreas Kopke. It’s Cristiano Ronaldo winking or Diego Simeone collapsing as if he had been shot. It’s all of those things and more, and by God, it hurts.

You turn to the person next to you and shrug. Why on earth did we think it might be different? Why on earth did we allow ourselves to start believing again? You’d promised yourself time and time again you wouldn’t be so easily swayed, but there it is again, that sensation in the pit of your stomach. Pain, anger, frustration. England letting themselves down once again.

But then, something else takes over, and it’s a far less familiar feeling. Pride. Respect. Enjoyment. You’re stood up in a crowded pub, straining to get a view of Southgate, penalty miss forgotten, going over to console his players, and you feel the need to applause. “Southgate you’re the one, you still turn me on, and football’s coming home again.”

This time, it doesn’t feel like a typical England exit. It feels uplifting. It’s not that defeat doesn’t matter, it’s just that, for once, it’s not the defining narrative. You remember an old phrase – “the journey matters more than the destination” – and you think, ‘You know what, maybe that’s right’.

It has been a journey, and against all expectation, it’s been a brilliant one. You roared like a maniac when Harry Kane headed home his last-minute winner against Tunisia, then shook your head in hysteric disbelief as you watched England score 6 (six) goals in a World Cup match. Six. That’s more than you normally get to see in the space of three tournaments.

Colombia was a big one. Spend the day messaging your mates to nail down a choice of venue, then drink yourself silly even though you’d promised yourself you wouldn’t because it was a school day. But hey, this is the knock-out stages of the World Cup so there’s probably just one more game to go.

Penalties. Inevitably penalties. Henderson misses. Bloody hell Jordan, not you. Not the one player you’ve been defending to the hilt while everyone has been telling you how limited he is. He isn’t by the way. He’s brilliant.

But then Colombia hit the crossbar. Christ, this might actually be on. Then Pickford saves. Pickford, the player you remember interviewing as a nervous teenager, now erasing the memory of 28 years of penalty hell. Get the rave on? Too right.

Sweden. The day when the nation truly came together. It was hot, but then it’s been hot throughout this tournament. Even the weather has fallen into line. Maguire. Bang. Alli. 2-0. It all felt so simple, so preordained, so resolutely un-English. So this is how it must have felt to be German for most of the last 40 years.

Like the rest of the country, you whip out your mobile, type in Sky Scanner, and spend the next hour pricing up trips to Moscow. Like most of the rest of the country, you reluctantly admit defeat when the cost soars past four figures. Damn Moldovan Air and their ever-increasing prices.

Still, you soak it all up for the next few days. Three days to a World Cup semi-final, then two. You remember Italia 90 when, as a 12-year-old, you stormed off to your bedroom in tears after West Germany’s penalty takers dashed English dreams, so you know this isn’t something that comes round every day.

One day to go. Where are we going to watch this? Everyone has different plans, but in the end you persuade your brother to join you at your local. He was there too when Waddle missed, and he was also in tears. How better to put those memories to bed almost three decades on?

Semi-final night itself. A blur. Forty-five minutes of euphoria as England took the lead and looked certain to overcome a Croatian side that seemed to be all over the place, followed by 45 minutes of desperate frustration as Croatia rallied.

Perisic’s goal. Screaming for a foul, even though deep down, you know it wasn’t one. ‘The referee can’t hear you, you know?’ You couldn’t care less.

Mandzukic’s winner. Time seeming to stand still as the ball rolled past Pickford and nestled in the corner of the net. You sensed it was coming, but you’re still struggling to breathe.

That final English free-kick. ‘One good delivery, right on Harry Kane’s head’. The ball arcing towards a Croatian defender and being headed clear. ‘That’s it then’.

The final whistle. Your brother comes over. He looks like he’s gone white and suddenly you’re back in that bedroom you once shared, consoling each other, talking about what might have been. But then you hug – you haven’t done that for a while – and join all those around you in an impromptu burst of ‘Football’s Coming Home’.

It isn’t, but as you watch your fellow fans, you begin to realise that was probably never the point. Something else has come home this last four weeks, something you thought had been lost forever amid the endless disappointments and failures.

This wasn’t an opportunity missed, it was a chance of something special thrillingly seized. It was face-paint and bunting, and an obsession with Southgate’s waistcoat. It was Three Lions on the radio and three knock-out matches to savour. It was Kane’s nerveless penalties, Pickford’s remarkable reflexes, Kieran Trippier’s dashing runs down the right. It was England at its best, and proof of just what the national team can mean.

It was a reminder of why you love football, and why you love your nation. Typical bloody England, indeed.