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Colourful London catches final fever as women bid for glory

London (AFP) – London was awash with colour, youthful excitement and pre-match optimism on Sunday as England’s footballing Lionesses stood on the cusp of history ahead of their Euro 2022 final against Germany at Wembley.

“The campaign has been fantastic, I have always kept my eye on it (women’s football), but I never had the same excitement,” said Jack Vaughn, 47, who was with his family at a packed fan zone in Trafalgar Square, central London.

“This is really going to propel women’s football forwards.”

The competition has caught the imagination of young and old, boy and girl.

Around 87,000 fans will witness the home team’s attempt to win its first ever major trophy, a new high for a final at either the men’s or women’s European Championship. 

“It’s getting more and more popular,” said 15-year-old Tilly, who was getting ready to watch the match with friend Chloe on one of the two giant screens looking down on Trafalgar Square’s famous lion statues.

“It used to be quite hidden in the dark because men were the spotlight and now I think we’re getting some popularity, which is quite nice.”

Those lucky enough to have tickets packed tube trains leading to Wembley Stadium, chanting “it’s coming home” and “we’re the famous Lionesses and we’re off to Wembley”.

Three hours before the 5:00 pm (1600 GMT) kick-off, Wembley Way was already a sea of red and white, with many supporters sporting the St George’s cross on their cheeks.

The family-friendly atmosphere around the famous stadium was in stark contrast to last year’s men’s final at the same venue between England and Italy, when thousands of alcohol-fuelled fans forced their way into the ground without tickets.

A strict no alcohol zone on Wembley Way was imposed to prevent similar scenes, but the child-heavy presence meant a repeat already seemed highly unlikely.

– ‘Summer of memories’ –

An all-female crew flying a Hercules and two Typhoon fighter jets treated fans in the stadium to a pre-kick-off fly-past, while pop diva Ultra Nate performed her 90s hit “Free” on the pitch.

Germany has already won the trophy eight times, but England fans were undeterred by the daunting record. 

“2-1 to England,” predicted Vaughn. 

Nearly 490,000 spectators have attended the 30 matches so far this tournament, an average of more than 16,000 per match and more than double the total for the 2017 competition, which itself set a new record.

As well as increased media coverage, the game is benefitting from relatively cheap tickets, attracting families that perhaps could not afford to attend men’s matches.

As a result, the stadiums have rung to a different sound, with many families and children filling the stands. 

“It’s a lot more fun for families rather than the men’s games. It’d be a lot more territorial, more hassle,” said Scott Sharpe, 35, who travelled from Leeds in northern England with his children Olivia, 9, and Lukas, 5. 

Having failed to get tickets for Wembley, he will be one of the estimated 7,000 fans soaking up the atmosphere at the fan zone.

The Lionesses’ impressive run to the final, which saw them thrash Norway 8-0 in the group stage and Sweden 4-0 in the semi-final, has drawn huge television audiences and best-wishes from sports stars, celebrities and leaders.

“Your passion for the game, your tenacity in tricky spots and above all your astounding talent on the pitch have already created a summer of fantastic memories for millions of us,” wrote Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“You can see it in the sold-out stadia, in the packed fan zones, in the small children dancing wildly to Sweet Caroline and the TV viewing figures that have seen records crumbling almost as comprehensively as Sweden’s defence did in the semi-final,” he added. 

That semi-final was watched by an average of 7.9 million viewers, a figure that could be exceeded on Sunday. 

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