LONDON: Tens of thousands of soccer fans draped in the red and white flag of England erupted in joy at Wembley stadium on Sunday - and at fan parks, homes and pubs across the country - as their side won the Women’s European Championship for the first time.
Sarina Wiegman’s team beat Germany 2-1 after extra time to claim their first ever major title in front of a record crowd on home soil, with almost 90,000 fans filling the London stadium, including thousands of children and families.
England’s progress through the tournament, just over a year after the men’s side lost the final at the same ground, has gripped the country, with members of the royal family, government, sports stars and singers all sending their support.
Their win, over a country that have previously defeated so many England soccer sides - men and women - marked the first major England victory at a soccer championship for 56 years, and earned a message of congratulations from Queen Elizabeth.
“Your success goes far beyond the trophy you have so deservedly earned. You have all set an example that will be an inspiration for girls and women today, and for future generations,” the queen wrote.
“It is my hope that you will be as proud of the impact you have had on your sport as you are of the result today.”
England’s 4-0 thrashing of Sweden in the semi-final drew a peak BBC TV audience of 9.3 million viewers, and that figure was expected to have been broken in the final.
Excitement around the England team has been mounting since some 69,000 supporters gathered at Old Trafford to watch their opening victory over Austria in early July.
By Sunday a Royal Air Force flypast with an all-female crew took to the skies over Wembley, while 87,192 fans gathered in the stadium - the highest total recorded in either the men’s or women’s editions of the tournament.
Prince William, who had earlier released a short video of support with his seven-year-old daughter, handed out the medals before hugging many of the players.
“Huge congratulations to Sarina, Leah (Williamson) and the whole team,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “Football pitches across the country will be filled as never before by girls and women inspired by your triumph.”
Videos online showed hundreds of fans following the game on big screens in city centres in London, Birmingham and Manchester, cheering as England forward Chloe Kelly scored in the 110th minute before running away in her sports bra.
“Could we ever envisage when we were girls growing up that one day we would have nearly 90,000 people at Wembley supporting the women’s football team?” one fan, Emily Taylor, told Reuters before the match. “Come on England”.