Anarchy descended on Wembley on Sunday night, plain and simple. And I was at the heart of the chaos that unfolded before the game.
The atmosphere around the stadium had been threatening enough, but the closer I got to actually entering the ground, the more dangerous the situation became.
I was in the act of scanning my ticket when I felt a presence behind me. One of the gang of ticketless thugs who’d gathered around the turnstiles, having breached the non-existent security, was ready to pounce, having unceremoniously barged my 70-year-old father-in-law – with me for what we hoped was going to be one of the greatest football nights of our lives – out of the way.
I turned around and we exchanged blunt words. He moved and, thankfully, we were in. Others were not so lucky.
I witnessed one paying punter scan his ticket and then get crushed against the metal turnstile by a would-be tailgater. The fan boldly refused to go in with his unwanted passenger.
His reward for taking a stand was to then have his ticket declined when he tried to enter again as it had already been scanned. In desperation he headed to a disabled entrance and pleaded his cause. Thankfully his story was accepted.
The warning signs hit us on the approach. Traffic at a standstill. Booze flying everywhere, along with bottles and cones. Shattered glass the soundtrack for the evening.
Shoving in: A mass of England supporters throng outside stadium and push at the barriers
Breakthrough: With no police in sight, stewards try in vain to force them back but scores barge their way in
Stampede of the mob: Barriers are breached allowing some fans without tickets to race into Wembley
Football fans storm through the security barriers at Wembley just moments ahead of England’s nail-biting fight against Italy
A group of football fans storm through the security barriers at Wembley as stewards desperately try to hold them back
Watching aghast: A fan draped in England flag looks on as supporters with tickets brawl with the invaders
Fists fly: Ticketless fans got into altercations with others as they barged into the stadium
Hands up: A helpless fan begs for mercy before being punched and kicked by multiple thugs
With no ring of steel, no ticket checks, those who had not paid for the privilege were able to get so close to the stadium they could touch it – and try to batter down its doors.
Pandemonium reigned at the bottom of the iconic steps where the first checkpoint was in danger of being overwhelmed. Social distancing went out of the window as thousands pressed up against each other, jostling for position.
One can only imagine the Covid fallout. The entrance we were heading for had been forced to close but many were simply jumping over the steel gate and running towards the turnstiles. I begged a steward to let us in, pointing out my father-in-law’s age.
There must have been others who were not so lucky. We were asked to show our Covid passport and tickets. Friends said they had no such checks. Back at the turnstiles, groups of marauding men were brazenly attempting to kick their way in as we approached.
Once we were through, I asked a clearly panicked steward why there were no police in the area. He shrugged and told me the staff felt let down.
Thousands of England fans cheer on their team outside Wembley Stadium ahead of the UEFA EURO 2020 final football match
It came as England fans flocked to Wembley in their thousands to be part of one of the biggest nights in English football history
Police officers form a line in front of the Wembley Stadium tonight as thousands of fans descend upon the scene
Those in fluorescent jackets refused to come out from behind the safety of the gates and confront the roving mob. It was akin to a scene from a prison where the inmates have rioted and the wardens have lost control.
The invaders pressed their faces against the mesh unchallenged and barked: ‘I’ll give you £50 to let me in.’
In our block, 102, fans had paid £812 for a ticket: ordinary supporters for whom justifying that amount would have been a major challenge.
Unsurprisingly, some took matters into their own hands. Video shared online from Gate C10 showed that when a door was forced open, some hurled punches and tried to trip up those who had got inside.
Again, not a police officer in sight. ‘Do your f*****g job!’ one screamed at a steward.
We made our way to our seats, grateful to be away from the carnage.
But within minutes there was a surge down the steps at the side of us. A brazen group of around 50 had managed to breach the wafer-thin line of defence, raced past a lone steward and headed for various parts of the stadium.
Many were aggressive. Some with tickets were too afraid to go to their seats and confront the interlopers. Again, not a police officer in sight.
Following the heartbreak of the lost penalty shootout, there was more hell waiting outside after the game. Wembley Way a scene of devastation.
Transport non-existent. More Covid chaos at Wembley Park, where we had to dodge out of the way of three armed police officers, automatic weapons drawn, chasing a man who was eventually hit by a car.
One football fan invades the pitch at the Wembley Stadium today as stewards attempt to tackle him to the ground
Three hours later, after two bus journeys and a begged-for Uber, we arrived back at our hotel in Richmond wondering what had hit us.
This morning, I was told that 300 police officers were at Wembley, a figure that had increased to 450 by the end.
I called a senior football policing officer from another force and asked if that was enough.
He laughed. ‘If 60,000 people were there, yes,’ he said. Conservative estimates were north of 100,000. The officer felt double – and potentially triple – that figure should have been present.
Serious questions now have to be asked. Why was there no ring of steel?
Why were those without tickets allowed to gather from 11am in the shadow of the Wembley arch?
Why was the biggest sporting event in years allowed to turn into a lawless free-for-all?
Why were warning signs at the semi-final not heeded?
What this means for the 2024 Champions League final, or the joint UK and Ireland 2030 World Cup bid, remains to be seen.
What is not in doubt is that this was a sad day for English football – made all the more upsetting by the heartbreaking loss on the pitch.