There was a 55-year wait – knitted by anguish, self-doubt, embarrassment and self-destruction – for this very moment.
Its arrival was delivered by a thoroughly lovely man and a thoroughly lovely team, who felt separate from the multitudes of ills stemming from the nation they represent.
Gareth Southgate’s England, a symbol of equality and effort, of standing up for what’s right, of flipping the finger to being insular as a collective product of ideas and methods borrowed from Europe and South America, had secured the honour of contesting a major final for the first time since 1966.
To undercut Brexit, the botched handling of coronavirus, the flood of foul play of public servants, and the general shittery of the past two years, came this feel-good story.
In the hours leading up to their moment, England should have been consuming uplighting footage of supportive chants, bumping their chests out prouder than ever.
Instead, the scenes that marked the build-up to their showpiece against Italy involved men firing flares out of their arse at Leicester Square, King’s Cross having to be evacuated due to pyro, bottles thrown to smash up a Burger King window and each other, fights with police, several arrests for disorderly behaviour and the destruction of areas around London with litter and what has been described as a mixture of “piss and beer”.
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And that was before the real mayhem begun outside Wembley as the players were taking their pre-match pitch stroll ahead of a milestone moment in their careers.
The stadium had to be briefly locked down after hordes of ticketless fans had breached sections of the stadium and stormed the concourse. Fences were torn down and thrown aside, with multiple eyewitnesses suggesting thousands had pushed in, including through a disabled entrance.
The breach prompted violence, with videos capturing an adult punching a kid in the head inside the stadium, while a group of men kicked an Asian male while he was on the floor.
A volunteer stationed outside the ground told The Independent: “There were thousands on the steps near Wembley Way that bomb-rushed the barriers and broke through. It looked so co-ordinated as it happened in one big move as soon as God Save The Queen started.
“There was chaos everywhere. Fences were thrown on the concourse.”
England cricketer Jofra Archer captured the barriers being breached and flung outside the VIP entrance of Club Wembley.
At 9:45pm, the crowd outside was only growing and “getting more aggressive” with their attempts to enter.
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Meanwhile, it was also sheer pandemonium inside. One-and-a-half hours before kick off, a Wembley spokesman was insisting “safety measures were quickly activated and there were no security breaches of people without tickets getting inside the stadium.”
Fans show their support along Wembley Way prior to the final
This was contrary to visual evidence, as the area behind the goal Italy attacked in the first half was massively overcrowded, while the sections in front of and to the sides of the press box had no place to stand. The aisles were swarming, stairs blocked, the disabled area overtaken and many paying supporters had their seats stolen.
There were several scuffles between those with and without tickets.
It was only just after 8:30pm when a Wembley spokesman conceded there had been a breach, but again contrary to visual evidence, that only a “small group of people got into the stadium.”
Brian Darwin, a supporter who paid £3,500 for his ticket, explained how the chaos unfolded to The Independent: “I was queuing for an hour-and-a-half along with my friend and the crowd were very patient. It started getting agitated and then an announcement came over the tannoy that if you’re queuing at Block K, go to J and they will let you in. So lots of people went to block J, there was about 40 minutes to kick off.
“They wouldn’t accept our tickets so we went back to K and queued again. Hundreds without tickets were tailgating and forced in behind those who paid.
“I was embarrassed really for this to be our national stadium, because you had Italian fans being treated like so poorly too. It was shocking organisation. The Covid-test requirement was a nonsense, it wasn’t checked properly for any of the England games I came to. You could have shown them anything on your phone.
“It was easy to get past the test check and just barge through the ticket bit. It ended up being thousands pushing through everywhere. I know of people who have not paid to get in to one England game, because they know once you get through those two weak checks, you’re inside and nothing will be done.
“There were quite a few with tickets who were stuck outside because of the chaos and a few friends with kids left because it was too dangerous. That is really sad. This was meant to be a day of joy and look what it turned into.”
All licensed premises within five miles of the stadium were ordered to be shut well before the final whistle.
England would lose on penalties, but the only disgrace was the actions of fans who tore up the city and forced entry into Wembley without tickets to go against everything the team they support symbolise.
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