IT tells you just how far the England football team has progressed under manager Gareth Southgate that before they were knocked out by Croatia on Wednesday night, many of us believed that football was already in the taxi, heading for the airport, on its way to coming home.

For those of us of a certain age this is a remarkable turnaround.

For the past 20 years or so I have spent a lot of time telling my son not to get excited about England’s prospects. That the team always disappoints. Suck it up and get used to it like everyone else aged 30 and above has had to do.

I have to admit, going into this World Cup in Russia, I felt exactly the same.

This was partly because I was so used to getting swept up in the hype and then feeling utterly fed up when England inevitably crashed out of tournaments. Also, I have to confess that I didn’t think the squad was strong enough to beat many of the other teams in the competition.

You can argue about the quality of the England players all you like – and sports journalists will continue to do so. It’s fair to say, I think, that there is room for improvement and the squad needs to be strengthened.

But, regardless of that, I feel completely differently towards the England team today than I did four weeks ago. And that has nothing to do with the footballing skills of individuals.

It is clear that in the two years since Gareth Southgate took over as the national team’s manager, he has changed the culture.

No longer do I believe, as I did for an age, that our footballers are more interested in playing for the club than their country. The passion and desire was on display for all to see.

No longer does there seem to be an over reliance on big name ‘star’ players as there has been in the past. I bet half of those who started in the first game against Tunisia were unknown to many watching.

We finally have an intelligent and measured manager, who from what I can gather, treats each of his players individually, looks after and supports them and thinks of team first, personality second.

He also knows just the right way to deal with the media and keep them on side, which is hugely important.

Southgate has been the real revelation of the 2018 World Cup, on the touchline dressed, as one comedian observed, like the father of the groom during the last hour of a wedding reception.

He has been calm yet passionate, personable yet forthright. And always optimistic without being arrogant or taking anything for granted.

If he continues to build on the success and goodwill of Russia 2018, who knows – football may well really be coming home in Euro 2020, which will see the semi-finals and finals held at Wembley.

I will certainly not, as I have for the past two decades, be telling my son not to get excited.

He has the right to feel optimistic for the future of the England team and that’s a sentence I thought I would never write.