England lost 2-1 to Croatia in the World Cup semifinal.
As expected, immediately after the game -and in many ways before and during the actual game -English fans experienced a vast range of emotions. Many of the 30,00 fans at Hyde Park bolted quickly to beat the crowds, while others stayed back and applauded as England players appeared on the screens, showering the team with appreciation for a well played game and tournament. Others cried and even yelled at the screen, a bit more aware of the possibility of a chance gone at global greatness that doesn’t come along easily or often. Overall, the moment was equal parts disappointment, joy, regret and celebration.
The day began with incredible optimism, similar to my experiences in Belgium the night before. Any country involved in such an epic game knows what it at stake and understands that the possibility to advance is present. Losing isn’t in the mindset at this point. Both nations were anticipating, waiting, hopeful and optimistic.
The English crowd at Hyde Park was announced at 30,000 whereas the crowd in Belgium was 8,000 with a few thousand outside the venue. If the crowd at Hyde Park, was 3-4 time the size of the Jette crowd for the Belgium game, the energy was 10-15 times greater. In fairness to the Belgium crowd, much of that had to do with the venue as Hyde Park, which was set up for the Summer Concert series as well as the fact that a half million people applied for the lottery to attend. One would expect that the vibe of the 30,000 which won spots would be very engaged.
England’s dream start only intensified those emotions as they led early. I spent the opening half in the front, the ‘mosh pit’ with the die hard fans. Into halftime the energy was electric and the fans acted as if they were in the stadium lifting the players spirit. The goal celebration was a thing of beauty and given what was at stake it intensified everything.
I remember watching the US score in stoppage time against Algeria to advance in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I was watching the game at a beach venue in Durban. For me that moment was epic… even though it wasn’t a knockout game, we needed to win to advance and Donovan scored a late goal. It was a memorable venue and experience.
I’m not English but in that moment I was as close to it as one could be. I had traveled across the world to be there and when Kieran Trippier’s free kick went in, we all erupted in a way which was worthy of the moment…World Cup semifinal, England leads 1-0 early. Football is Coming Home. In London’s historic Hyde Park with 30,000 fans. France looming on Sunday for a chance to be World Champions in the sport that matters most.
And then…Croatia came to life.
As the second half developed, that all changed. It changed on the field with the English players and team. It changed in the announcers words, as they almost expected and predicted a monumental collapse. And it changed in the Hyde Park crowd, where over 30,000 fans began to show their obvious doubt. In the end, Croatia grabbed the momentum of the game, scoring to tying goal to send it into overtime before winning.
I rode the tube the following morning and the joy and celebration of the night before was missing, the disappointment and regret could be witnessed in conversations but overall the mood was subdued. Many look tired, possibly from a late night of excitement and partying but also from the inevitable energy spent lifting a nation over the course of a past month.
I was speaking with a father and his adult aged son and the son summed it up perfectly. He said I had the full English experience…optimism, excitement and hope, only to have it come crushing down in the end.
England has drawn considerable backlash in recent days, at least in social media, for their ‘Football’s Coming Home’ rallying cry, which has united the nation. In this day and age, it seems like every team or country has a theme or hastag rallying cry, some which are carefully chosen and others which choose themselves. Examples are the ‘Iceland Viking Clap’, the ‘One Nation, One Team’ the ‘I Believe that We Will Win’ chants which pop up when the US team plays, or even the #strengthinnumbers that has become the Golden State Champions mantra.
In the moments leading up to the game, fans literally sprinted into the venue to take part when they heard the “Football’s Coming Home” song played. For the English fans, it was their Icelandic Clap, their rallying cry and having witnessed it first hand, it was part of the reason, along with the play of the England team, which 500,000 fans would apply to win a lottery to watch the game in a particular venue.
Football isn’t coming home, but for the English fans, their young team infused energy into their lives in a way which English teams have been unable to in recent years.
Many fans that I spoke with after the loss were ready to move on. And, immediately the conversation and optimism shifted to 2022 in Qatar. It is a bit like the London Eye – it is never ending and keeps moving; you either hop on or miss the ride.
Thank you England, for letting me join and enjoy the ride. I hope to be cheering for the US team in 2022 but unlike the English fans, we haven’t already assumed qualification. Don’t be surprised if you see me at Hyde Park again.