Carrying the hopes of a nation: England’s shot at heroic and historic win

During an inevitably rousing rendition of God Save the Queen shortly before 8pm on Sunday, the Red Arrows will perform a fly-past over Wembley Stadium leaving a trail of red, white and blue vapours lingering in the skies.

The Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team’s patriotic display will signal the start of the most important game of Gareth Southgate’s young players’ careers as they carry the hopes and aspirations of an entire nation.

With 65,000 fans due to attend the London arena, the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy will be the biggest crowd at any sporting event held in the UK since the pandemic struck.

For many people the match represents not only a chance for a heroic and historic victory, but also a clear signal that Britain is at last returning to normality after months of Covid restrictions.

The Prince of Wales, not known for his love of football, has followed this squad closely, in part because he has got to know Gareth Southgate well during the England manager’s 15 years of working for the Prince’s Trust charity.

Children at Ernesettle Community School, Plymouth, show their support for England

Earlier this week, he summed up the mood of many England fans: “It would be marvellous if they won. It’s not good for the nerves watching England play.”

In official fan zones, pubs, beer gardens and living rooms across the country millions of supporters will gather to watch the game, England’s first major tournament final since their World Cup win in 1966.

Tickets to the match have been selling on the black market for tens of thousands of pounds as the clamour to see sporting history in the making reaches fever pitch.

The game is also expected to provide a much-needed boost to the economy as the hospitality industry which was so badly hit by the pandemic predicts record sales of beer and, hopefully, Champagne.

An England victory could even help to secure a new celebratory Bank Holiday, possibly a four-day weekend in August.

Phil Runciman emulates England's football stars at Wimborne Model Town

However, the Football Association (FA) was hoping there will be no repeat of the booing during the opposition’s national anthem, setting off fireworks and shining a laser at the opposition’s goalkeeper which marred last Wednesday’s game against Denmark. UEFA on Saturday fined the FA £26,000 for the behaviour.

Manager Gareth Southgate on Saturday asked fans to be "respectful of the opposition" and warned booing can "give more motivation to the opponent". 

The game will prove a ratings battle between BBC and ITV as both channels will be showing the match. Viewers will have to decide whether they take their sport with or without adverts.

That divide means it is likely neither broadcaster can claim to have attracted record numbers of viewers. The 1966 World Cup match between England and Germany attracted 32.3 million viewers ranking it among the most watched television programmes of all time.

If proof was needed of how anxious many of us will be from 8pm, look no further than the other great English obsession – tea.

The National Grid is anticipating a spike in demand for power during half-time as nervous fans reach for the kettle to make a comforting cup of tea.

Jade Brooks's bulldog Bruno is swept up by England fever

The need for electricity during that 15-minute break is expected to outstrip all previous football events, as two gigawatts of power is anticipated to be drawn from the network.

It is estimated about 1.1 million kettles will be switched on at the same time, around 600 megawatts more than the surge recorded at half-time when England played Denmark on Wednesday. It also exceeds the 800 MW of extra power needed at half-time when England beat West Germany in 1966.

It remains to be seen whether it beats the record 2.8 GW required at the end of the penalty shoot-out when England lost to Germany in the 1990 World Cup.

While this data may appear proof of what a sober nation England can be, that surge in demand for electricity is also caused by those opening the fridge, possibly to grab an ice-cold beer.

Those fans tempted to overindulge may struggle through their day at work tomorrow. Many employers, on the other hand, are perhaps bracing themselves for more absences than usual.

A spokesman for the GMB union said: "Employers and fans should take a common sense approach. Employers should exercise good judgment and supporters should act responsibly."

Train operators reported a flurry of drivers being “pinged” and told to self isolate in recent days by the Test and Trace app forcing them to cancel hundreds of services. Govia Thameslink, the UK’s biggest rail network, cut 400 of its 2,200 services due to a shortage of drivers.

Ross MacDonald adjusts England bunting outside his home in Feltham ahead of the Euro 2021 final

Operators warned those travelling to Wembley to allow plenty of time for journeys, even warning how some could end up stranded if drivers failed to sign up for Sunday work which is run by many operating companies on a “voluntary” basis. It was feared that could also hamper efforts of fans to get home from Wembley.

Another British obsession – the weather – may bode well for the England team. Becky Mitchell, meteorologist at the Met Office, analysed London weather charts from the 1996 World Cup final on July 30 and found near identical conditions with Sunday’s forecast.

“It’s very similar weather,” she said. “It was an unsettled day back in 1966 with sunny spells, heavy showers and a few thunderstorms with temperatures reaching 20C. Sunday’s forecast is surprisingly similar with the day starting mainly dry. But as we get close to kick-off there will be an increasing risk of heavy showers and possibly thunderstorms. Let’s see if that brings us some luck.”

Many schoolchildren who stay up late to watch the match will be able to take advantage of a lie-in tomorrow with some schools allowing children the opportunity to arrive at 10.30am.

Italy fans living in England are gearing up to support their team on Sunday night. Pictured: Pizza restaurant owner Alfonso Bravolo in Bedford

For Caroline Reed, from Rossmere Primary School in Hartlepool, the Euro final offers children an invaluable chance to learn about sharing a collective experience with the nation.

She told Radio 4’s Today Programme that some people had criticised her decision to allow children to come in slightly later if they stayed up.

“I’ve seen some killjoy comments online on various websites, about how children shouldn’t be losing out on learning after having missed out on learning for the last 18 months.

“But, what everybody has got to understand is primary school children particularly have missed out on a lot of life experiences in the last 18 months of Covid and this is an experience they can share with their families and they’re sharing with the whole country.

“It’s really important. The learning they can gain from that can’t be underestimated."

Noel Barton has covered his shop VIP Beds in Birmingham in around 400 England flags

She added how children had been encouraged to look at the team’s “resilience”, English culture and what the National Anthem means.

For those planning to travel to London to take part in any celebrations, the Metropolitan Police warned the city was still in the grip of a “public health crisis”.

Laurence Taylor, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, said “We will enforce legislation proportionately and as appropriate and engage with crowds.

“But I urge people not to gather in large numbers. If you don’t have a ticket to the matches, fan zone or officially booked into a pub, bar or club my message is clear: please do not come to London – you could end up missing the game.

The semi-final against Denmark on Wednesday saw hundreds of fans clambering on to a double-decker bus to celebrate the last-minute England win.

The prospect of victory tomorrow reminded Chris Farlowe, the singer who was at Number One when England won the World Cup, of the “complete euphoria” that swept across the country 55 years ago.

The musician, now 80 and who sang ‘Out of Time’, described fans as being “over the moon” in what were “big days”.

A good luck message from David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and the Lightning Seeds was projected onto the white cliffs of Dover. It read: "We’ve always believed. Good luck Gareth and the England squad!"

It followed a claim from Mr Skinner on Friday night that Uefa had banned the pair from singing Three Lions at Wembley because it was “too partisan” and “not fair on the Italians”.

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