Well … that was exhausting

London during UEFA Euro 2020

In case you missed it, on Sunday night England lost a game of football to Italy. The match was in Wembley, and the result so tight there was barely room to breathe.

We watched the game on television, and then, gathering our senses for Monday, we drove north, across the M25, and into the centre of London.

We had no idea what to expect. This is what we saw.

Overlooking the fan zone in Trafalgar Square, London (UEFA Euro 2020)

(This is about how the final game in the UEFA (United European Football Associations) Euro 2020 championship, and what followed, felt to me last Sunday night. NB I am not a football expert, or fan of note, just an onlooker grateful for the entertainment in the time of a pandemic.)

Our route took us up the A3, through Putney and Wandsworth.

It was raining hard as we left, but eased as we reached the outskirts of London. The traffic was average for that hour on a Sunday evening, and flowed freely over the wet gleam of the roads.

As we reached Putney, fans started to appear in the headlights, clumped together in places, or drifting home alone. The mood was a slow motion one, of shared, spent adrenalin, with the odd tired chant remembering the glory that had felt so close.

Kings of the road were the red buses with their crowns of brightly lit windows, each filled with the silhouettes of young adults. Most of them were masked, and most were seated, with occasional small England flags like pop-ups between them.

The largest flags of the night were on the pavements, usually wrapped like capes around shoulders. One back view, damp and cheerful, read “Keep Calm and Keep Following England”.

The further we went towards the centre the more pedestrians there were, most in search of food or transport. Face paint had smudged, and headgear shifted. Bodies looked tired, and then suddenly brighter as they stepped into the yellow light of a kebab shop or pizzeria.

Around Westminster the pavements produced a few black ties, and high heels, their spirits much the same as those of the flag bearers.

We drifted past and wondered how things would be around Trafalagar Square.

It turned out it was much quieter than we had imagined it would be. We reached the fan zone area just after midnight, and by then all seemed peaceful. A small boy on a bicycle was part of a group in conversation with a steward. There was rubbish on the streets, and the pavements were thicker with groups waiting for buses, but there was no sign of agitation … just a weariness, and evidence that the big McDonalds may have had the night of its pandemic-life.

At the far end of the Strand the roadworks laid down a marker for a return to the ‘new normal’. All was quiet beneath the streetlights beyond. It was hard to believe that only a few hours previously millions of us, had escaped briefly to a patch of green, to watch two select groups of young men pit their skills against each other in an effort to secure victory.

We reached our destination with our heads still full of football. It may be only a game, but this year it was also an escape route, and we had travelled it with enthusiasm. Thanks to those who brought the championship to life, and to England for fielding such a diverse, high-achieving side.

A sadness is the awful stain of abuse associated with the game, both racist and domestic. Football is such a skilful sport, and so accessible. I hope that it can create space for all, at every level, and that the violence on its fringes evaporates.

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2021

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