No expense spared as England prepares for World Cup semi-final

From private jets to M&S waistcoats, open mosques to closed supermarkets, football fever grips the nation

Mad dash

England fans are taking trains, planes and automobiles – often at exorbitant cost – in a desperate bid to get to Russia in time to see England play in the semi-final of the World Cup against Croatia, and maybe even the final on Sunday. The Football Association is expecting more than 10,000 fans to make the 3,600-mile trip to Moscow for Wednesday’s game.

Some, like England fan Karan Rai who booked a single flight to Moscow just before the England-Sweden game kicked off, only have a one-way ticket.

“I still have no idea how I will get home yet, but all this is worth it,” he told the Guardian. “I am confident next week I will be in Trafalgar Square for the trophy parade and an unveiling of a statue of Lord Southgate in his waistcoat outside Westminster. It’s coming home.”

The Hereford United fan flew without a ticket for the game, only to be lucky enough to meet a Brazilian who had a ticket to sell at face value as he was going home.

“This game means everything to me. I haven’t slept properly since I got my ticket yesterday, as I have been filled with excitement,” he said. “I think since Brexit we have such a divided nation and an England victory could really unite the nation.”

See it on the big screen

Hyde Park in London is set to host the biggest London screening of a football match since Euro 96, with up to 30,000 football fans expected to pour in to the park to watch England’s semi-final against Croatia.

Reading the mood of the nation, the British Summer Time (BST) festival being held at the park has postponed planned events to allow the free screening to take place on Wednesday. Its website crashed under the weight of demand on Monday as tens of thousands applied for tickets to watch the game on a giant 94m x 11m (308ft x 36ft) screen.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he hoped Londoners of “all ages and backgrounds” would come together to cheer the team on.

In Manchester fans will gather at the Castlefield Bowl but some fans were criticised for snapping up the free tickets and them attempting to sell them for £80 each. Albert Hall will open its doors for a free screening at 5pm, while Victoria Warehouse, near the Manchester United ground, is opening its doors to 3,500, flogging tickets from between £4 and £11.25.

Events cancelled

Will anyone spare a thought for the organisers of long-planned events that just happen to have coincided with England games? Since England beat Sweden, events up and down the country have been cancelled because of a clash with the semi-final.

Birmingham’s mayor, Andy Street, cancelled an official event, saying that football coming home was more important. The mayor’s “Ask Andy” evening was due to take place at 7pm on Wednesday in Wolverhampton, but sensing a low turnout, the mayor announced on Twitter that it would be rescheduled.

While the event was vitally important, “[e]ven the renewal of the West Midlands has to take a back seat for just one evening when there’s the prospect of football coming home,” he tweeted.

And while England may be a sporting-mad nation, football training sessions and matches have been cancelled in many places. The Swindon Speedway team postponed Wednesday’s meeting against Leicester, and Yorkshire County Cricket Club’s fixture against Derbyshire has been rescheduled.

Roger Federer at Wimbledon
Whether Roger Federer is in the Wimbledon men’s final or not, one thing is for sure: it will not be moved to make way for the World Cup final, the All England Lawn Tennis Club has said. Photograph: Visionhaus/Corbis via Getty Images

One British stalwart is refusing to bow to pressure, however. The All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club confirmed that the Wimbledon men’s singles final, scheduled for 2pm on Sunday, will not be moved even if England reach the World Cup final on the same afternoon.


In Liverpool a mosque has opened its doors to worshippers and non-denominational football fans alike, showing all the games on a big screen as part of a community integration push.

The Abdullah Quilliam Mosque is now gearing up for the biggest game so far with a barbecue and soft drinks.

“This is the first time any mosque has screened the World Cup”, said its chief executive, Mumin Khan. “We are delighted to host the World Cup, the mosque welcomes people of all walks of life and football brings people together and this encourages community cohesion.”

While the atmosphere has been very family friendly, the atmosphere among fans has been electric, said Khan. “It has been a success and there was a real sense of change in helping people feel like they can walk into a mosque. It is a positive gateway for challenging negative perceptions about Islam.”

The world in one city

Londoners Adam Burns, Kevin Masters, Paco López and Rasmus Otto have watched games with people from 32 different nations during this World Cup in a bid to experience the full cultural wealth of the capital, but when England take to the field for the semi-final against Croatia on Wednesday they are looking forward to watching it among England fans.

Costa Rica fans
Costa Rica fans were among those joined by four Londoners aiming to watch the football with people from 32 different nations. Photograph: Adam Burns

The foursome – two Brits, a Spaniard and a Dane – will either watch the game with 30,000 other football-crazy fans at Hyde Park or, if it can be arranged, with older fans in an old people’s home who remember England’s triumph in the 1966 World Cup.

“It’s been an amazing experience and we’ve shown that the World Cup really does transcend nations,” says Burns, who has taken a five-week break from work to complete the task with his friends. “We have such incredible experiences, but as an England fan we might only get to see a semi-final once in our lifetime so we want to be among England fans.”


Since England beat Sweden to make it to their first World Cup semi-final for 28 years, and deranged optimism gripped the nation, die-hard fans have been flocking in increasing numbers to tattoo parlours. Because nothing says “this will definitely not jinx England’s World Cup progression” like having the words “It’s coming home” permanently tattooed on your skin.

According to Savvy media there was a 128% increase in searches for “it’s coming home” after Saturday’s victory over Sweden, a 431% increase in searches for “flight to Russia” and a 1,233% increase in searches for “England tattoo” since the start of the World Cup.

One 30-year-old has gone one step further, having the words “World Cup Winners 2018” inked along his thigh along with the face of Harry Kane, all before a single ball is kicked in the first hurdle England face, reported the Daily Mirror.


Rather than face mass walkouts and claims of sickness among staff members desperate to watch the football, several supermarkets have already announced that they will close their doors early if England make it through to the World Cup final.

Iceland will close at 2pm on Sunday, while Aldi and Lidl – “the official supermarket of the England team” – will shut at 3pm, if England make it that far.

Lidl’s UK chief executive, Christian Härtnagel, said: “We absolutely believe it’s coming home, which is why we are planning to close stores an hour early, and take part in what we hope will become a day of national celebration.”

Aldi’s UK chief executive, Giles Hurley, similarly hopes to allow staff “time to finish work and get home to watch the match, just like everyone else.”

Figures suggest the early closures will be of little concern to shoppers, with footfall on the high street down 18.9% during England’s quarter-final last Saturday afternoon.

Increase in private jet demand

Some lucky – and decidedly well-heeled – England fans have decided they are going to travel to the World Cup in style. According to private jet companies, groups of friends and family members are clubbing together to meet the cost of a private charter – estimated to cost between £45,000 and £50,000 for a return flight on a nine-seater aircraft. Those lucky few are travelling “in VIP style for this once-in-a-lifetime experience”, said PrivateFly.

Gareth Southgate, new style icon for England fans
Gareth Southgate, new style icon for England fans. Photograph: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images

Waistcoat Wednesday

We already know that Gareth Southgate, as well as harbouring all the hopes and dreams of a nation, is now the style icon of the majority of sartorially savvy England fans. Waistcoat sales have gone through the roof, with demand so high that Marks & Spencer, which sells the official England waistcoat sported by Southgate for £65, has sold out of all sizes except XXL online, with the retailer desperately attempting to restock before the big game. Showing dedication to their fashion choices and their leader, England fans have taken to wearing their waistcoats – official or otherwise – while making the long trip to Russia. Whether they are still wearing them on the flight home remains to be seen.

It’s coming home

The Lightning Seeds and David Baddiel and Frank Skinner’s England anthem, Three Lions, has undeniably been the anthem of England fans during this World Cup – and even George Ezra is hoping that the song’s resurgence will see it rise as gloriously as a Harry Maguire header to the top of the charts.

Ian Broudie from the Lightning Seeds, left, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel announcing their new recorded version of Three Lions for the 1998 World Cup
Ian Broudie from the Lightning Seeds, left, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel announcing their new recorded version of Three Lions for the 1998 World Cup. Photograph: PA

The singer, who has topped the charts for the past two weeks, tweeted fans this week, urging them to knock him off the top spot to help get Three Lions once again to No 1. Why? “Because it’s coming home,” said Ezra.

If the renaissance of “it’s coming home” has been immortalised in tattoos, social media memes, PR stunts, singles sales and Google searches, one enterprising athlete found a unique way of declaring his belief: by marking the Earth itself. Well, sort of. Felix Gott, an enthusiastic runner from London, used his GPS device and tracked his route on sporting social network Strava to spell out those three little words – in admittedly clumsy style – on the streets of the capital.


Nazia Parveen, Alexandra Topping and Henry Jones

The GuardianTramp

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