London (AFP) – London erupted in delight on Sunday, with football fans turning Trafalgar Square into a giant party and some even diving into its famous fountains to celebrate England women winning Euro 2022.
More than 87,000 packed out Wembley Stadium, a new high for a final at either the men’s or women’s European Championship, while another 7,000 descended on Trafalgar Square, where the game was shown on two giant screens, to support the Lionesses against Germany.
Watched on, appropriately, by the square’s four famous lion statues, the fans rode a rollercoaster of emotions as England scored first, were pegged back, before finally triumphing in extra time.
“I think they’re wonderful,” Maggie Maybury, 67, from London, told AFP at the fan zone.
“Everyone’s going to love them. They will just be the darlings. It’s going to be good for women’s sports.”
The 2-1 win secured England women’s team their first ever major trophy.
Kirsty Carey, 33, from London, said the history-making players were “a true inspiration for young girls all over the country.
“It is a huge, huge stepping stone for English football, women’s football,” she told AFP.
The competition has caught the imagination of young and old, boy and girl, with everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying they hoped the triumph would be the springboard for young girls to take up the sport.
“They’re a fantastic example for my two daughters,” Luke Ederson, a father of a 2-year-old and 6-year-old, from Yorkshire, northern England, told AFP.
– ‘Summer of memories’ –
Fans brought colour to the capital hours before kick off, both around the stadium and in the city centre.
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 always seemed highly unlikely.
Over half a million spectators attended matches, 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 games benefitted from relatively cheap tickets, attracting families that perhaps could not afford to attend men’s matches.
As a result, the stadiums 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.
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, drew huge television audiences and best-wishes from sports stars, celebrities and leaders.
The team had “already created a summer of fantastic memories for millions of us,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote before kick-off.
“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 was almost certainly exceeded on Sunday.
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