They join the oh-so-nears! England fans joy then despair over Three Lions - PICTURES and VIDEO
England’s Russian adventure is over following heartbreak against Croatia in the World Cup semi-final.
The hopes of the nation had been raised with the sounds of ‘it’s coming home’ ringing around the towns and cities.
Many people thought Gareth Southgate’s youthful side could go on to win the cup, ending 52 years of hurt.
And the game started with lift-off when Kieran Trippier scored in the fifth minute, a 30-yard free-kick which sent the crowd into raptures – both in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow and in pubs, living rooms, gardens and fan parks across the country.
Alcohol flew through the air at The Royal London in Wolverhampton as more than 300 people dared to dream.
But as the game wore on, England became desperate, Croatia composed.
England missed some guilt-edged chances as Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard et al couldn’t pull out a crucial second strike to make things comfortable.
And with just over 20 minutes remaining disaster struck.
Ivan Perisic beat the defence to a cross and Croatia were level.
For many, in pubs across the Black Country and Staffordshire, the agony was too much to bear as the World Cup looked to be slipping from the Three Lions’ grasp.
Then Mario Mandzukic ended it all in extra time, making it 2-1.
People had believed. And there was upset and disappointment at full-time, but that was soon overtaken by acclaim for this young side.
Written off at the start of the competition by many, the team have shown spirit and strength to bring the country together.
Who said football was just a game? ”What are we going to do with ourselves?” asked Sally Meyrick, who watched the game at The Clarendon Hotel in Chapel Ash, Wolverhampton, which had St George’s flags covering every crevice.
The 52-year-old residential property landlord added: “You just know the weather is going to change and it will return to a normal British summer. But, you know, it doesn’t matter.
“We’ve got this far and the lads have been brilliant. It’s been a really amazing time.”
Hospital manager James Owen, 32, from Wednesfield, said: “They played well. I’m proud of them.”
Back inside The Royal London, where ice was kept on tables to keep people cool, people sat with their heads in their hands – shocked, glum, disbelieving.
Construction worker Chris Dudley, 33, from Bushbury, was crushed by the result.
“I’m devastated,” he said. “I was full of joy in the first half, then it all went wrong.”
It’s the hope that kills you.
Mark Minton, 46, an engineer with UTC Aerospace, was also totally deflated. “This is the English mentality, instead of attacking we absorb the pressure.
“We had such hope. Fifteen years ago no-one would have come out on the streets like this for the so-called golden generation of England players, but this felt different.
“But the lads did well, the pubs have been jam-packed, we’ve enjoyed the ride.”
In Walsall, Dino Gallagher watched the game at The Registry, in Leicester Street. He said: “I am devastated, it is heartbreaking.”
The 25-year-old from Reedswood added: “All the customers are devastated. At the end of the day we have done really well to get where we are. Fair play to the boys.”
Sam Nash, 49, from Walsall, was also watching the game at the Registry.
She said: “I am absolutely gutted we lost. I think we have done well to get this far and I thought we would go all the way. But what can you do?”
Over in Dudley, at the Saracens Head, in Stone Street, Tyrone Garratt, 52, said: “Summer is officially over. But I’ve enjoyed it. Even though we’ve lost, it’s been the best World Cup I’ve ever seen.”
Barman Kieron Page, 24, said: “I’m proud of them.
“They’ve brought the whole country together behind them. They’re heroes.”
And at The Griffin, also in Stone Street, retired engineer William Cooksey, 69, from Dudley, said: “Obviously I feel down but they tried their best. It’s been wonderful to see the whole country pull together and get behind the team.”
Landlord Simon Toop, 49, said: “I’m distraught because we would have beaten France if we’d got to the final. I’m still so proud of them.”
In Cannock, at Bar Sport, people chanted ‘England ‘til I die’ at the final whistle.
When the Croats took the lead it was had been met by a few exasperated gasps and then a heavy silence. James Matthews, 22, from Brownhills, said: “I am going to cry now that we’ve lost. I am proud with the boys because they have come this far.”
James Corfield, 28, from Wollaston, was at the game having followed the team through the tournament. He said: “Everyone is revelling in how well the team has done. They have been knocked down, but we’ll be back.”
Build-up started early for the game, long before many people entered pubs after they finished work.
During the week businesses had been flying flags, schools were asking children to come in wearing England colours and workers were wearing waistcoats modelled by manager and former Villa centre back Gareth Southgate.
Some even had gotten tattoos, with one man – Hass El’Osseili – getting ‘It’s Coming Home’ written on his wrist.
New Identity Tattoo Studio in Birmingham was offering the tattoos for free ahead of the big game. And among the biggest good luck messages for the team was those from two electronic screens outside the Banks’ Stadium in Walsall.
Facing both ways on the motorway, it read It’s Coming Home. Daniel Clarke, marketing manager at Walsall FC, said: “Over the course of the competition we have been wishing the England team good luck.”
- Photographs by Tim Thursfield and Steve Leath. Words by Marion Brennan, Charlotte Callear and Alex Ross.