They came from Berne, Berlin, Luxembourg and Dubai, some forgoing a night’s sleep as they drove across the Alps or took red-eye flights. Some of the more ardent football fans bought tickets two years ago; others bagged them in the last-minute rush that followed England’s historic win over Germany on Tuesday.
They were rewarded with an extraordinary, emphatic, exhilarating 4-0 victory over Ukraine, and those inside the stadium sang till their voices gave out.
Each goal was met with thunderous roars from 2,500 England supporters in the stands at Rome’s Olympic stadium, a predominantly “expat” army crowd after coronavirus restrictions prevented most fans living in the UK from travelling.
However they made it to Rome, many could not believe their luck at being in the Italian capital to experience England’s victory.
“It feels a bit surreal,” said Robert Cummins, a Briton resident in Zurich, as he drank a beer before kick-off at the Drunken Ship bar, in Rome’s Campo de’ Fiori square. “It was a great opportunity after England beat Germany, and we just thought ‘why not?’ And so booked last-minute.”
Cummins had come to Rome with fellow England fans Richard Hay, who also lives in Zurich, and Manish Patel, who lives in Berlin. The three were among the “expat” army making up the 2,500 England supporters allowed at the stadium after coronavirus restrictions prevented most fans living in the UK from travelling.
“It would have probably been impossible to get a ticket otherwise – I feel very lucky to have one,” said Patel, who was in Germany when it hosted the World Cup in 2006. England made it to the quarter-final on that occasion too, before losing to Portugal. “I remember there were something like 200,000 England fans there then. It’s much quieter here than it was in Germany.”
Sam Massenhove, originally from east London, finished work in Berne at 5pm on Friday and drove across Switzerland’s mountainous border into Italy with his girlfriend, Joanna Mendham, also from London, and friends John Brown and Kieran Porter, both originally from Birmingham.
“We left the car in Milan at about two in the morning, slept on the street and then got the first train to Rome early this morning. It’s my first time in Italy,” said Massenhove, who pledged to propose to Mendham if England won the tournament.
“We only got tickets yesterday and wanted to make the most of it,” said Brown, who had also never visited Italy before. “I hate to say it, but if it wasn’t for the pandemic we probably wouldn’t have made it.”
At Italy’s request, Uefa cancelled all tickets sold since Monday to England supporters resident in the UK for fear that people would attempt to flout the five-day coronavirus quarantine rule in place for travellers arriving from Britain. The quarantine rule for people travelling from the UK was reimposed in mid-June amid concerns over the spreading Delta variant.
But some UK residents did make it to Rome, having bought tickets for the quarter-final two years ago. They arrived in the city before knowing whether England would compete in the match, which gave them sufficient time to quarantine.
“I bought tickets for three of the matches in 2019, in three cities that I wanted to go to, and Rome was one,” said Sagar Gondhia, from London.
And it was not only England fans who travelled to Rome for the game – among those drinking in Campo de’ Fiori were four Germans, one sporting an England shirt. The group had also bought tickets for the quarter-final two years ago – crossing their fingers that Germany would be in it.
“It’s a sore topic but we wanted to come anyway,” said Laura Eisenbarth.
Florian Huber joked: “We knew not many England fans could make it, and so we have come to help cheer on the team.”
The celebrations in Rome continued long into the night.
“We didn’t book a hotel as our flight’s at 8.30am tomorrow … so we plan on finding a bar that is open late enough to have us before going to the airport,” said Barry Edwards, who had come from Barcelona with his friend Jordan Radley.
“It would have been worth coming even if England had won 1-0 … as soon as we booked the tickets, we knew it would be special.”