London vibrates to World Cup rhythm
Their vuvuzelas echoed among the high rise buildings in South London on a balmy evening more reminiscent of a Bogota summer than one in Britain’s capital.
It’s what happens when a city stops to watch the World Cup, when the streets empty and bars and restaurants fill.
In Elephant and Castle, a not-so-quiet corner of London on Tuesday, a sea of yellow shirts in a little Colombian eatery — La Bodeguita — watched on nervously.
Despite the team trailing 1-0 to England in a World Cup last-16 game going into the last minutes of stoppage time and looking on the verge of exiting the competition, the noise endured with hundreds continuing to believe until the end.
Recent estimates put 70,000 Colombians living in the UK, with the majority of those South Americans residing in London.
When Yerry Mina headed home Colombia’s last-gasp equalizer and the sea of yellow shirts erupted, it felt like most of them had congregated in La Bodeguita.
Colombian shirts dominating the surrounding streets — Elephant and Castle is known for its large Latin community — but a smattering of England fans tentatively picked their way through the crowd.
“It’s amazing, I feel such a sense of national pride,” Hugo, 38, told CNN Sport. “It doesn’t matter that I’m in London today, I still feel Colombian.”
Nearby at the Lost Rivers pub in Castle Square, hundreds more Colombians queued outside just to try and gain entry.
“This is such a special moment for Colombia and Colombian football,” said Juan, 21. “As a Colombian living in London, playing against England here is even more special … and I think we’re going to win.”
They didn’t. After 30 nerve-racking minutes of extra-time, the tie was decided on a penalty shootout, with Jordan Pickford pulling off a stunning save from Carlos Bacca, before Eric Dier slotted home the winner.
Quiet streets, loud pubs
Earlier on Tuesday, the streets around Soho, usually teeming with shoppers and tourists, were eerily quiet.
The only people milling around, it seemed, were England fans desperate to find a pub empty enough to let them in.
“Sorry, we’re full,” was the response more than a few were greeted with. They would scamper away, hoping to find another bar in time for kickoff.
Over in East London, at the trendy outdoor bar Flat Iron Square, fans were well oiled before the game had started.
When Harry Kane scored the opening goal from the penalty spot, the sky momentarily rained alcohol.
Elsewhere leading religious figures and royalty willed on England.
“I beseech you with all my heart please regain your composure and keep your cool!” tweeted John Sentamu, Archbishop of York.
“Sad the Referee did not go to the Review Area (VAR)! But please threaten with your Ball! Let justice prevail!”
Prince William, tweeting from the Kensington Palace account, wrote: “I couldn’t be prouder of England — a victory in a penalty shootout!
“You have well and truly earned your place in the final eight of the World Cup and you should know the whole country is right behind you for Saturday! Come on England! W”
‘It’s coming home’
Since the World Cup started there have been three words on all England fans’ lips: “It’s coming home.”
In an age of memes and satirical videos, the utterance is often tinged with a hint of sarcasm, but there remains an underlying belief that this England team is different to its recent predecessors.
The phrase originates from the official Euro 1996 slogan “Football Comes Home,” in reference to the modern game being invented in England, and was popularized by the chart-topping single “Three Lions” — written by comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner — which was released in the same year.
England coach Gareth Southgate, who played 57 times for his country, has breathed life into the national team and his style and approach, both on and off the pitch, has won plenty of plaudits.
Gone is the turgid football which has blighted England in recent years, with Southgate openly encouraging his stars to express themselves with a more expansive, entertaining style.
It doesn’t hurt that around half of the squad play their club football at either Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool, three of the most exciting teams in the English Premier League.
His off-field demeanor is different, too, with Southgate openly discussing an array of political topics with the media, ranging from Britain’s tense relationship with Russia in light of the Salisbury poisoning to how the Brexit debate impacts his squad.
This current England squad is one of the most diverse in history and Southgate has spoken with pride at how his young team mirrors today’s society.
“That’s one of the most important things for me if we’re managing to do that,” Southgate told ITV. “We have the chance to affect something bigger than ourselves.
“We’re a team with our diversity and our with youth that represent modern England. In England we’ve spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what out modern identity is.
“I think as a team we represent that modern identity and hopefully people can connect with us.”
It’s also also helped build a connection between team and country.
“I mean look at us, wherever you go tonight, this is London, you’ve not got a more diverse place in the country,” said England fan Gary, who was watching the game on Carnaby Street in central London.
“Everywhere you go, we’re all standing together. Football does bring people together.”
Setting up a regular “Players vs. Press'”darts match with the traveling English media may seem like a trivial exercise, but it has been part of Southgate’s efforts to improve the relationship between the national team and media.
“He’s been handling the media really well, he’s been lowering expectations,” says Kieran, an England fan also watching the match in Soho. “He’s been doing a good job.
“The press have been abysmal (over the years), they’re either ramping it up or then they’re slating the England team. It’s one or the other, they can’t make their minds up.
“They sensationalize everything. I don’t really read the papers, they just build us up to knock us down. They were pushing us to go for the easier route (second place behind Belgium) and then he got criticized for playing a B team!”
“You’re either supporting the country or you’re not,” add his friend Matthew.
The excitement about a new England is certainly palpable on the streets, where fans feel something big could be on the horizon.
However, for a country which has won just three World Cup knockout matches in 28 years — including Tuesday’s clash with Colombia — even reaching the semifinals would feel like an achievement.
Now Sweden stand between England and a first World Cup semifinal since 1990.
“It’s been more enjoyable because we’ve played well,” Kieran adds. “The last few World Cups or Euros, they’ve played badly and you haven’t enjoyed watching them.
“It’s the youngest team we’ve had for a while, there is less pressure on them. If they make it to the semis I’ll be happy.”
Though people are trying hard to not let their emotions get the better of them, they just can’t help but to say those words.
“I reckon we can bring it home,” says Gary. “I reckon we can.”