Football fever grips England as fans arrive hours early for Wembley showdown

England football supporters have begun getting into the party spirit ahead of the Euro 2020 semi-final showdown with Denmark.

Three Lions fans are expected to get through nearly 10 million pints in pubs and beer gardens tonight, while the majority of the 60,000 supporters inside Wembley for the semi-final showdown will hope to create a typically partisan atmosphere.

The Duke of Cambridge, who is president of the Football Association, will be among those inside the ground to watch the match, which will be the first time the men’s team has made it to the semi-final of a European Championship since an ill-fated penalty shootout defeat to Germany at Euro 96.

The first fans have started arriving outside Wembley Stadium ahead of the Euro 2020 semi-final
The first fans have started arriving outside Wembley Stadium ahead of the Euro 2020 semi-final (Zac Goodwin/PA)

England manager Gareth Southgate, who saw his penalty saved in the sudden-death shootout 25 years ago, will be hoping his team can go at least one better and make it to the final, also at Wembley, on Sunday evening.

Tonight’s semi-final kicks off at 8pm, with tens of millions expected to watch the match on ITV.

Others have already started arriving on Wembley Way or in pubs in anticipation, where fans wore replica strips and staged impromptu kickabouts.

England superfan Chris Dowse, who lives on the flag-bestrewn Kirby Estate in Bermondsey, south-east London, said he had declined the offer of tickets to the Euro 2020 semi-final because he would rather watch the game in the company of his neighbours.

Chris Dowse and his eight-year-old French bulldog Tinkerbell on the Kirby Estate in Bermondsey where residents are showing their support for England
Chris Dowse and his eight-year-old French bulldog Tinkerbell on the Kirby Estate in Bermondsey where residents are showing their support for England (Luciana Guerra/PA)

The 42-year-old told the PA news agency: “I’ve been offered tickets but I’ve turned them down. Firstly, I’m not rich and I’d like to spend that money on my kids.

“But secondly, I am really proud of what we’ve achieved on this estate, so I will be watching it here.”

Victory will see England in their first major final since the 1966 World Cup.

Fans play football outside Wembley Stadium several hours before the semi-final match with Denmark
Fans play football outside Wembley Stadium several hours before the semi-final match with Denmark (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Italy await the winners of the match following a semi-final victory against Spain on Tuesday in which they triumphed on penalties when the game ended in a 1-1 draw.

Lars Thuesen, Danish ambassador to the UK, said 8,000 Danish people living in the UK will be among the Wembley crowd later, with numbers limited due to travel restrictions.

He also said the tournament had been a “huge emotional rollercoaster” for Danes, after star midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest during the defeat to Finland in their opening match.

Alan Putman, in costume and a horse drawn carriage, on the Kirby Estate in Bermondsey
Alan Putman, in costume and a horse drawn carriage, on the Kirby Estate in Bermondsey (Luciana Guerra/PA)

He told Sky News: “It started out we were crying, we were praying, then a few minutes later, when we realised he was going to recover, we were crying (tears) of joy. There are higher things at stake than football.

“He’s still part of the team, part of the WhatsApp group, he wanted us to participate in the tournament as though nothing has happened.”

Mr Thuesen added: “I think everybody in England, in the UK, understands that here I can’t be a diplomat. I’m a huge fan of my own country and I hope that we’ll win tonight.”

England fans celebrate the team's victory over Germany in the last-16 round
England fans celebrate the team’s victory over Germany in the last-16 round (Mike Egerton/PA)

The crowd at Wembley will be the largest since coronavirus restrictions were introduced last spring, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he cannot guarantee there will not be an outbreak of Covid-19 cases linked to football fans watching the game.

He told LBC radio: “I think we can manage this risk but to say there is no risk, if you have thousands of people in one place… there’s always risk in life.

“I think we’re managing the risk. I’m confident there won’t be a big outbreak but we can’t guarantee that now.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was among those urging the England team on, saying: “Gareth Southgate and the England squad have done the nation proud in the Euros, and tonight we will all be wishing them the best of luck in getting to the final. Bring it home!”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also had words of encouragement for the team, saying: “Gareth Southgate and the squad will have the whole nation behind them tonight. Both on and off the pitch, they have shown the best of England. There’s been only one song featured in our house since Saturday – It’s Coming Home.”

Those watching from outside venues may need to be prepared for all weathers, with sunshine and showers forecast for parts of England throughout the day, although London is expected to remain dry during the match.