London: Talk of knighthoods is possibly premature, but England’s newspapers and political class savoured history in the making after the men’s football team reached a final for the first time since 1966.
With coverage spread over both the front and back pages, several papers headlined their main stories with the word “Finally”, after England ended their long wait to reach the final of a major men’s tournament.
Italy await on Sunday at London’s Wembley stadium, in front of a crowd limited to some 66,000 - two-thirds its capacity. The government has relaxed the Covid rules to allow pubs to stay open longer.
“It’s an amazing moment for the country,” finance minister Rishi Sunak told Sky News, anticipating a much-needed boost to the pandemic-hit economy.
“It reminds us of what life was before we had to deal with Covid,” he added.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted that Gareth Southgate’s squad had “played their hearts out”.
“Now to the final. Let’s bring it home,” he said, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab celebrated winning a case of beer in a bet with his Danish counterpart.
On its front page, The Sun newspaper riffed on a long-running advertising slogan for Danish lager Carlsberg: “Probably the best feeling in the world.”
There was talk of awarding a knighthood to Southgate and key players such as winger Raheem Sterling, and calls for the government to declare a national holiday on Monday should England triumph against Italy.
Not everyone was rejoicing. Conservative lawmaker Lee Anderson stuck to his vow to boycott watching the semi-final, in protest at England’s multi-racial team taking the knee before kick-off.
After Sterling won a debatable penalty against Denmark, the Scottish edition of Metro newspaper went with “England dive into final” on its front page and on the back, “they think it’s fall over”.
Mass disobedience broke out regarding rules on Covid distancing after celebrations across English cities long into Wednesday night, in exultant response to the hard-fought victory over Denmark.
Police in London made 20 arrests, including for assault and public order offences, breaking up some crowds violating the pandemic curbs.
Flag-waving fans at London’s Trafalgar Square abandoned their seating to merge into a huge, swaying crowd after the final whistle. One group of supporters climbed on top of a double-decker bus.