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Forlorn but proud, fans applaud England despite defeat

AFP  |  London 

An initial wave of elation turned to heartbreak as 30,000 beer-soaked fans in London's Hyde Park on Wednesday watched England lose an early lead in semi-final against 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."

Crowds of glum-looking fans swiftly streamed out of the venue, as some stayed behind to applaud the young team's surprising success in

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 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 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-"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 who grabbed headlines then.

"We haven't really got the players now, but we've got the team," he said.

- 'Absolutely electric' -


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.

It postponed a planned event at the to allow fans to watch the game on several giant 94-metre by 11-metre screens.

Sadiq Khan, who helped organise the event, asked for a family-friendly atmosphere after instances of following England's quarter-final victory over on Saturday.

He arrived shortly before kick-off to a joyous scene of free-flowing beer, oversized inflatable footballs bobbing around the crowd -- and the now ubiquitous chorus of "Football's coming home".

England's resurrected Euro '96 campaign song by the was even performed by the band ahead of the game to a rapturous reception from the largely youthful crowd decked out in England shirts and flags.

England's only goal in the game sparked scenes of pandemonium, only to be replaced with eerie silence as equalised early in the second half and then snatched victory in extra time.

As the game dragged on, the crowd tried to rally the team from afar, launching into several renditions of the national anthem "God Save the Queen".

"The atmosphere's been absolutely electric," said Michael Grant, 36, a property developer.

"A lot of people haven't experienced anything like this in a long time."

Up and down the country, an estimated 30 million people watched the game on television, packing anywhere with a screen, from pubs, bars and restaurants to rooftop screenings, outdoor spaces and cinemas.

- 'Brought everyone together' -


For some, England's success in reaching the last four has brought a much-needed sense of unity in a country still wracked by divisions over Brexit.

"It's brought everyone together at a time when they needed it," said Louise Smith, 34, as she celebrated the game in Hyde Park with friends.

"It's been really nice to see that."

The team's unexpected advance through the competition has coincided with weeks of uninterrupted sunshine across the country -- equally rare in rain-sodden England. It had left some wondering if this is the new normal.

"You don't get success in and good weather in England," said Nikki Langley-Essen, 38, a enjoying the novelty of both.

"What's going on?"

As fans left Hyde Park -- now a sea of rubbish -- 27-year-old 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.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, July 12 2018. 09:40 IST