LONDON – It was the first time he replayed Alicia Russo’s superb back heel goal that thrust the first beer into the London night sky. Trafalgar Square erupted, and in a split second, he sighed at the same time. Some clasped their faces in shock, others laughed, and the couple screamed.
Rousseau’s art teacher, Michelle Tilby of her old school in Maidstone, was nearby, and when she saw the replay, it was clear to everyone what had happened. She cried, “Oh my God! Her parents would be so proud!” As shock began to mix with incredible pride, as she immediately danced, she was stunned.
It was a moment when the 4,000 or so people of all ages and backgrounds who flocked to central London to witness England’s semi-final victory over Sweden came together. Celebrate as if time has stopped, and the location is irrelevant thanks to a few hours of pure football escape.
Earlier in the week, star Fran Kirby said this team wanted to give people a chance to stop their personal fears and fears, and just enjoy themselves. The atmosphere in Trafalgar Square was just a festival, there was a group of people gathering to watch the lionesses.
There have been comparisons all week with last summer’s celebrations when England reached the men’s European Championship final. The team was asked if they had seen those scenes and dared to allow themselves a moment to imagine what it would be like with one of the most famous arenas people watch. The lionesses did their best to stop such thoughts, saying that they ignore the noise.
Instead, any experience or understanding of the state’s passion for what they achieve has been preserved in unexpected moments of appreciation – such as when a group of guys were walking down the street in Teddington from their nearby hotel, applauded by them. People hanging out of their windows and those in the street.
So any understanding of tonight’s Trafalgar Square can only be seen through YouTube and social posts. And when they catch a glimpse – surely that will be a must – they won’t see the dancing in the fountains like last year, but instead stun fans watching every kick and head, little girls dressed in full England outfits with their names on the back of those redesigned last summer’s T-shirts and vintage ones Different, and their families, with their children sitting on their shoulders and standing on chairs trying to catch a glimpse of their lionesses.
Each of them had their own reasons for being there. One group had come down from Bedfordshire, the Sandy Tigers U18s – they traveled just to enjoy the atmosphere and get involved in something. Others had hoped to make it to the match in Sheffield, but even in one case they couldn’t enter them as one of the best rugby players in the world.
“I tried to get tickets to go to Sheffield to watch, but it was golden dust, and that was even before England were in the semi-finals,” England rugby star Shaunagh Brown told ESPN. “It was either going to a pub and seeing it local or coming here – but it was such a big event, so I was like, ‘I have to go there.'”
“I live in Kent, but I wanted to put in the effort and get off and be with good people. It makes you feel good about women’s sport – seeing how many people are here, getting involved and investing – even the DJ is someone I’ve heard before – that’s not low key, that’s high key .”
Brown will be a key player for England’s favorites at this year’s Women’s Rugby World Cup and couldn’t help but leave the imagination wondering. “I’m watching this and I think how cool it would be,” she said. “I got on the bus and the front page of the metro was a player from England and Sweden – and how cool it would be if there were women rugby on it too. It shows how powerful the World Cup is.”
Brown was reaching out to friends from MurWalls, a street art company that produced some of the famous murals, including several for last summer’s competition. They put up a wall in the fan zone in Trafalgar Square, which has seen statues of Fran Kirby, Leah Williamson, and Beth Mead.
“We were asked to draw the three girls who are currently performing from London, so it makes sense to promote them in the arena,” said CEO Mark Silver. “We do these things all over the world and don’t lose the buzz of people who appreciate your work. People love it, and we love it.”
Before kick-off, there were initial discussions about whether they would do something special for the final if England reached it. “We’re talking about it – they’re talking about if we’re talking about when,” Silver said before kick-off. “It will be bigger.” These plans may now be quickly tracked.
Michelle Tilby was seated in front of the mural. She had traveled from Maidstone and had a special relationship with England’s Supersub Russo. She is an art artist at Rousseau’s – St Simon Stoke Catholic School – and she has paid close attention to her career ever since. You remember how the 2012 Olympics captured Rousseau’s imagination, and suddenly several of the class’s students said they wanted to be soccer players. It was Rousseau who made it.
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“We are so proud of her,” she said, after taking the trip just to be there and be a part of it. Two hours later, she was wrapped in an England flag in an attempt to tackle the back heel.
There were other stories – such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who supported Eileen White to start before Russo, and said his favorite player was Beth Mead. “Last year we were talking about [Jack] Grealish, this year it’s Russo,” watched the match with his family from one of the vantage points in front of the National Gallery.
Others just wanted a beer to fill the soccer atmosphere. A young man in his mid-twenties said he turned into a lioness after signing for the Euro this summer.
Those with different reasons for wanting to be a part of it all contributed to what was a passionate and captivating group. The first half was tense, and there were the usual shouts when a player fell to the ground, or was about to make a mistake. Then Meade scored in the 34th minute and the place erupted, but no beer was thrown – not when margins were so small, and the long queue swayed from fountains to the National Gallery.
Lucy Bronze’s header at the start of the second half calmed nerves and commentary from the two wide screens hovered over the hustle and bustle of familiar conversation. Then came the box office moments – first Russo’s back heel, then Kirby’s chip.
When the whistle blew, there was an exhale and then a cheer. There were those who were clasping each other even tighter when they saw Eileen White crying, their heroes’ feelings. It was agreed that they would return to the final on Sunday, if they couldn’t find a ticket. Some have talked about trying to return to the fan zone tomorrow night for France against Germany. One of the boys was practicing on the Russian back heel.
And then they all left for the night, some made new friends, and others came home after their bedtime. Lionesses often said that they wanted to unite the nation and make memories. Regardless of the outcome of the final, judging by the spectators in Trafalgar Square on Tuesday night, they got it right.