DOMINIC KING: atmosphere for Euro 2022 final restored faith

DOMINIC KING: After yobs wrecked the men’s final last year, the atmosphere at Wembley for England’s Euro 2022 final win over Germany restored faith. This was everything a sporting occasion should be

  • Trafalgar Square’s fan park was a haven of optimism and hope for the Euros final
  • The tournament was a reminder of how great sporting occasions can be
  • It was a welcome reminder after disgraceful behaviour at last year’s Euros 

The difference a year makes. On this corner of Leicester Square 12 months ago, a man was bent over with a billowing flare positioned in a part of his body that a billowing flare was never meant to be.

On what was supposed to English football’s greatest day since 1966, the rancid behaviour of thousands — whose acts varied between mindless and violent — brought shame and turned England versus Italy into an occasion that is now only viewed with disgust.

This time, however, it is different. Leicester Square is tranquil, with only a smattering of football shirts in sight. Around the corner in Trafalgar Square, the fan park that caused police such palpitations in 2021 is a haven of optimism and hope.

The win for the Lionesses at Euro 2022 was a reminder of how great sporting occasions can be

England fans have travelled from far and wide to be here, including Lizzie Barclay, who lives in Amsterdam. She is with partner Cat McPhee and friends Amy Irvine and Katie and Megan Metcalfe Roberts and she wants to make an important point.

‘This isn’t just a celebration of women’s football — it’s a celebration of English football,’ she says. ‘Everyone is so grateful for this team. This might never happen again and it is something for everyone to enjoy. It’s a moment in history, isn’t it?’

When history presented itself in 2021, the event was wrecked. Nobody who attended England’s clash with Italy will forget the Neanderthal and xenophobic chanting on the tube or the disgrace that was Wembley Way.

Full cans of beer were thrown at full force from one side of the sea of humanity to the other. Cocaine was openly taken, fences were used as urinals and the police stood by, powerless, unable to make a difference.

The fan parks set up for Euro 2022 were a far cry from the scenes at the men’s tournament

Worse would follow, when thousands of ticketless yobs forced their way into the stadium, squeezing like rats through any opening they could find. Many infiltrated the area where the England players’ families were supposed to be sitting and caused mayhem.

Leaving Wembley that night, the smell of stale beer was putrid and the scrunch of broken glass under foot was sickening. Why should England ever host an occasion like this when people can’t be trusted to behave?

Yesterday was a day to restore faith. This tournament has been an outstanding success and the final was an occasion that proved inspirational and created memories to last a lifetime.

Hannah Duncan, 34, a teacher from Tetbury, Gloucestershire, was on her first visit to Wembley. She bought tickets for this final 12 months ago, in the hope England would go all the way.

She captured the atmosphere when she said: ‘It feels like a moment in time. You look around and see lots of kids. The atmosphere is brilliant. Little kids can come and their parents know there is no danger of them seeing things they should not see in terms of trouble. It feels like the Olympics. It’s something for us all to be proud about.’

She had come with Siobhan Haynes, 35, a PE teacher from Bristol, who said: ‘The interest in this game is growing because the quality of the sport is increasing all the time. Before the players had to have jobs as well as trying to train but you can see how much things have improved.

‘Women’s football is far more interesting to watch than men’s football now because that game is very technical and intense. What we are seeing here is how football used to be and we are all here just to enjoy the game.’

And what a game they enjoyed. Competitive, tense and full of drama with a conclusion that created history. For once, it was England left holding the trophy.

This was everything a sporting occasion should be. Let’s hope there will be many more.

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