ROBERT HARDMAN joins England fans near Wembley Stadium on historic night


We have probably all had trips to the dentist which were more enjoyable than last night’s extended session of sporting root-canal work.

Nonetheless, let us just stand back and survey the scene on the morning after: England are in a football final for the first time in the lives of half this nation – and certainly in the lives of those who delivered last night’s sensational, redemptive triumph.

Where does this one sit in the pantheon of England results? Take your pick. What is even more gratifying is that it lays to rest an entire cemetery of ghosts.

It takes us beyond that shocker of a night against the Germans in 1996. Those of a certain age still recall the misery of Italia 90. 

I remember being in St Etienne on that dismal night in 1998 when we were kicked out of the World Cup well before the semi-finals and even that felt like the end of days.

Let us just stand back and survey the scene: England are in a football final for the first time in the lives of half this nation. Pictured: England fans react as Denmark scored an own goal

If people couldn't be at Wembley , then they could at least, like Robert Hardman (pictured with Melissa Mcfarlane), be in the Blue Check Bar near Wembley Park station

If people couldn’t be at Wembley, then they could at least, like Robert Hardman (pictured with Melissa Mcfarlane), be in the Blue Check Bar near Wembley Park station for England’s victory

Whatever irritation befalls anyone English today, just think what it would feel like if we were in post-mortem mode instead of planning Sunday night’s party.

It was only when Harry Kane’s penalty somehow ended up in the back of the net in the 104th minute that we old-timers finally dared to contemplate the ‘F’ word. 

Cometh that Hallelujah of a final whistle, Wembley went wild. I couldn’t see the pitch for cartwheeling flag-waving delirium. Drinks flew through the air. Strangers hugged Covid-blasé strangers…

If people could not claim to be at Wembley, then they could at least – like me, in the Blue Check Bar near Wembley Park station – say they were in Wembley on the night that England finally conquered their semi-final demons.

Sitting alongside me were three England fans who had come all the way from Middlesbrough. 

None had tickets for the game. Michelle McFarlane, 47, had at least managed to get one for the previous night’s game but her friends – sisters Wendy Mason and Denise Taylor – had just come to be ‘part of history’. They weren’t bothered if they weren’t actually inside the ground.

Denmark's heat-seeking missile of a free kick just before the half-hour suddenly had us groaning

Denmark’s heat-seeking missile of a free kick just before the half-hour suddenly had us groaning

The whole affair ¿ from mid-afternoon to late last night ¿ was the least Covid-conscious scene I have witnessed since this pandemic began. Pictured: England fans react during the semi final

The whole affair – from mid-afternoon to late last night – was the least Covid-conscious scene I have witnessed since this pandemic began. Pictured: England fans react during the semi final

‘We got to walk up Wembley Way with all the fans and we got a selfie with John Barnes,’ said Denise proudly. Earlier, I met five electricians from Sunderland, all in crusader costumes, who said the same. 

During the course of the day, I met more fans from Birmingham than fans from London. This was a genuinely national occasion – for that bit of the nation, at least, which wears red and white.

The other red-and-white brigade, however, were doing their best to ruin the party. 

Denmark’s heat-seeking missile of a free kick just before the half-hour suddenly had us groaning that dormant groan which suddenly reawakens in the belly of all England fans at some point every other summer.

The Danish own goal nine minutes later was the cue for utter bedlam. There are moments when one can be grateful for Covid restrictions. Had this place been any fuller, there might have been injuries.

The whole affair – from mid-afternoon to late last night – was the least Covid-conscious scene I have witnessed since this pandemic began. Tens of thousands of tanked-up fans simply had something else on their minds. 

The stadium capacity was 20,000 below normal, but this was still the biggest mass gathering on British soil since the word ‘lockdown’ entered the dictionary. And that was not including the fans packing the surrounding streets of North London without a ticket.

Despite the stadium reduction, the build-up was among the biggest I have known here. I was at Wembley on that ghastly night when England last played a Euro semi-final here 25 years ago and the streets were not as rammed as this.

Apparently a Government minister had voiced concerns about some fans not wearing masks on public transport or in the stadium. I am afraid to say I barely saw a single fan in a mask all day, let alone anything resembling social distancing. 

The stadium capacity was 20,000 below normal, but it was still the biggest mass gathering in the UK since lockdown began. Pictured: England fans watch the match at Trafalgar Square

The stadium capacity was 20,000 below normal, but it was still the biggest mass gathering in the UK since lockdown began. Pictured: England fans watch the match at Trafalgar Square 

The Danish own goal (pictured) was the cue for utter bedlam. There are moments when one can be grateful for Covid restrictions

The Danish own goal (pictured) was the cue for utter bedlam. There are moments when one can be grateful for Covid restrictions

There was just some anti-social distancing outside as people suddenly jumped out of the way of the flying cans of beer being hurled from one side of the vast throng to the other. 

It was all very irresponsible, of course, but the police held back, keen to keep the mood good-natured – which it was.

The Danes had arrived in significant numbers following the release of 8,000 tickets to Danish passport-holders based in the UK (no fans were allowed to travel across the North Sea). It meant that anyone with a Danish passport and a British address could apply.

This presented a problem for the Blowers family from York. Katarina, 19, Natasha, 23, and their mother, Stine, were all togged up in Danish kit and all had tickets because Stine is Danish and so her children qualify for Danish passports.

Dad, Mark Blowers, 57, however, is a Brit. Though proudly wearing an England shirt, he had no ticket and was reduced to watching the game on a telly nearby.

Not every Dane was wholly Danish, it must be said. Mitra Rasmussen certainly was but, having secured four tickets, she was accompanied by three friends – from Australia, Portugal and Poland. 

I spotted the unusual sight of a fan in a Denmark shirt and a kilt. David Paterson, 56, a Scot from Newmarket, was accompanying his Danish wife, Tine Hansen, a nurse.

Some England fans had bought their tickets long before this tournament started, such as Lawrence Page, 72, from Maidstone and his three sons-in-law. They had taken a lucky guess that England would be in this semi-final – and had been spot on.

With the three brothers-in-law all dressed as lions, Lawrence felt obliged to come as something else. 

‘We couldn’t really be four lions so I’ve come as a lion tamer,’ he said. 

I met the football-mad Joannu family from Sutton Coldfield who had managed to find online tickets for £600 each a week ago, having take a punt that England would win their quarter-final.

It was only when Harry Kane's penalty somehow ended up in the back of the net in the 104th minute that old-timers finally dared to contemplate the 'F' word

It was only when Harry Kane’s penalty somehow ended up in the back of the net in the 104th minute that old-timers finally dared to contemplate the ‘F’ word

England fans in Manchester celebrate England's second goal, scored by Harry Kane, as they watch the Euro 2020 semi final on Wednesday

England fans in Manchester celebrate England’s second goal, scored by Harry Kane, as they watch the Euro 2020 semi final on Wednesday

It wasn’t such a bad deal. When I tried to find a black market ticket an hour before kick-off, the going rate was £1,500 – and I got gazumped anyway.

Some fans had simply persevered with the official channels. Adam Sugarman, 24, and his business partner, Charlie Mintz, owners of TLTP education recruitment, had methodically trawled the Uefa website for spare tickets over several days.

Their determination secured seats for both last night and Sunday’s final at face value.

The fans had been revving up for this one for so long that the council rubbish squads were filling their first skips before teatime. 

Supporters were queuing up to get in to Wetherspoons – already in full voice – at the same moment the pupils were streaming out of the Ark Elvin Academy next door.

This happens to be where a young Raheem Sterling went to school at the same time the new Wembley Stadium was taking shape. 

They have since rebuilt the school (and renamed it after the man who built the original Wembley, Arthur Elvin) but their most famous old boy doesn’t just stay in touch. He sends them boots and match tickets.

‘We’ve just done an assembly on him,’ says a teacher on her way home. ‘Everyone’s very proud of the connection.’

Where will they put the statue?

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