Long before the steel arch shot into view, you could pinpoint Wembley’s exact location by the sound emanating from the stadium, the feeling of ecstasy lining its path.
The straightforward 15-minute walk from the Central train station did not require any signage. Follow the white shirts, follow the vibes, follow the party, follow the noise and you had arrived at your destination.
There was an ocean of happiness. Wave after wave of smiles and song, arms in the air and scarves swirling, warm beer showers and the haze of red and white smoke.
The area surrounding Boxpark was inaccessible; supporters as far as the eye could see, no piece of unoccupied ground visible.
It was a football carnival outside, fitting as a primer for the European Championship semi-final between England and Denmark.
The festival only escalated once the 60,000 fans filtered into their seats and turned the venue into your favourite late-night, best-time karaoke dive on steroids.
When the dance hit “Freed From Desire” by Gala was turned on over the speakers, the crowd went supersonic. There was a sense of awe looking around, watching this all unfold, and wondering if we took this for granted before the age of the global pandemic.
Atomic Kitten’s “Whole Again” remix, an ode to Gareth Southgate, followed and the decibel levels rose further still. There was no embarrassment, no inhibitions, just people having the time of their lives…
After over a year of ghost games, and in truth, largely forgetting what mass fun in life looked, sounded and felt like, it was hard not to be stirred by the scenes at Wembley regardless of allegiance.
The Denmark fans, around 6,000 of them stationed behind the goal Kasper Schmeichel guarded in the first half, could be seen and heard throughout the encounter despite being severely outnumbered. This was a treat for everyone here, a release, a celebration.
Even Frank Skinner and David Baddiel, writers of “Three Lions”, were on the terraces to sing along and be merry 25 years after penning the classic.
The stadium was bouncing by the time “Sweet Caroline” took off, which serenaded the players as they started to walk out.
Was that the end of it all then? Would the nerves and anxiety and tenseness kill the atmosphere? Nope. The opposite. There was venom and appreciation: heckling the opposition, applauding your own. There was a complete buy-in: shout, clap, curse, sing, chant, shout and curse some more…
This was an occasion to be enjoyed, a moment in time to experience wholeheartedly.
Extra time began with a deafening chorus of “it’s coming home”.
And when Harry Kane converted the penalty to send England into their first major final on 104 minutes, there was a ceaseless choreography of bodies jumping up and down in unison, shirts swirling and arms raised triumphantly.
At the final whistle, the words “football’s coming home” was tattooed on the place. Louder, louder.
Then the players and staff desperately joined the party. They locked hands and lent their voices to another serving of “Sweet Caroline” in a vignette that will stand the test of time.
Football atmospheres: there’s really nothing like it. Sorry if we took you for granted and please can we have some more?
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