London: An initial wave of elation turned to heartbreak as 30,000 beer-soaked fans in Hyde Park here, Wednesday watched England lose an early lead in the World Cup semifinal against Croatia and come up short once again.
“I’m really, really sad,” said a tearful Laura Russon, 31, clutching an empty bottle of cider. “But I’m still 100 per cent proud of them.”
Early on in the game, optimism had ruled. Under the clear blue skies of a beautiful summer’s evening, beer rained down as fans celebrated an early England goal in their first semifinal 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 being a part of history.”
Shaun Bailey, a 48-year-old IT worker, reminisced about watching England lose their last semifinal, 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 added.
The Hyde Park screening was the largest of its kind for an England game since 1996 as 30,000 fans watched the game on several giant 94-metre by 11-metre screens. London Mayor Sadiq Khan was also present among the fans for a short while.
British media meanwhile reflected Thursday on England’s heartbreaking loss. England won plaudits not just for their deeds on the pitch – reaching the semis for the first time since 1990 – but for bringing together a nation bitterly divided over Brexit.
“Our divided nation has been united thanks to a polite Englishman and a bunch of modern ordinary lads,” said the ‘Sun’. “Forget Manchester United, West Ham United, Newcastle United. For now we’re an England United, first in hope, now in defeat.”
A ‘Guardian’ headline said, “England beaten, but Southgate has relit the fire, say proud fans.”