An initial wave of elation turned to heartbreak as 30,000 fans in London’s Hyde Park on Wednesday watched England lose an early lead in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia and come up short once again.
“I’m really, really sad,” said a tearful Laura Russon, 31. “But I’m still 100 percent proud of them.”
Crowds of glum-looking fans swiftly streamed out of the venue, as some stayed behind to applaud the young team’s surprising success in Russia.
Early on in the game, optimism had ruled.
Under the clear blue skies of a beautiful summer’s evening, fans celebrated an early England goal in their first semi-final appearance in 28 years — a prospect which had seemed virtually impossible at the tournament’s outset.
“This is the first time in my life England have made it anywhere near this far,” said 23-year-old Murad Huseynov, draped in a red and white St George’s flag. “It feels like history.”
Over half the current squad were not even born when England last played a semi-final in world football’s top tournament, while manager Gareth Southgate was born four years after their last final in 1966.
Shaun Bailey, a 48-year-old IT worker, reminisced about watching England lose their last semi-final, in 1990 to then-West Germany “on a wooden TV balanced on a Coke machine” while at university.
“Times have changed — it was 28 years ago,” he said, noting the current team’s style differed from the individual stars like Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne who grabbed headlines then. We haven’t really got the players now, but we’ve got the team,” he said.
The Hyde Park screening was the largest of its kind for an England game since 1996, when the country hosted the European Championship and the team made the semi-finals.
The 30,000 free tickets were snapped up within minutes in a ballot held Monday afternoon by organisers the British Summer Time (BST) festival.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who helped organise the event, asked for a family-friendly atmosphere after instances of disorder following England’s quarter-final victory over Sweden on Saturday.
“The atmosphere’s been absolutely electric,” said Michael Grant, 36, a London property developer. “A lot of people haven’t experienced anything like this in a long time.”
As fans left Hyde Park — now a sea of rubbish — 27-year-old Henry Ludlam was optimistic for what lies ahead for England.
“It’s such a young team and there’s so much chemistry for the future,” he said. “In four years, we’re going to be unstoppable.”
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