An expectant nation was counting down the minutes to the biggest football match on English soil for a quarter of a century tonight when the Three Lions tackle Denmark in the semi-final of the Euros at Wembley.
The Duke of Cambridge will lead the cheers at the national stadium where more than 60,000 mainly English fans will hope to inspire Harry Kane and the rest of the team to create more magical sporting memories.
Tens of millions more will put their lives on hold at 8pm as England bid for their first tournament final since the glories of 1966.
Celebrities, sports stars and political leaders willed Gareth Southgate’s men on to make yet another heroic effort after the stirring victories against Germany and Ukraine in the knock-out stage of the Euro 2020 tournament.
The winner of the match, being shown on ITV, will face Italy on Sunday night following the Azzurri’s dramatic triumph over Spain last night in a penalty shoot-out.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the Standard: “Gareth Southgate and the squad will have the whole nation behind them tonight. Both on and off the pitch, they have shown the best of England. There’s been only one song featured in our house since Saturday - it’s coming home.”
Singer James Arthur added: “I’m going to Wembley to watch England progress to the final of a tournament for the first time since 1966. This could be a once in a lifetime experience so I’m blessed to be there cheering on the boys.”
Other high-profile names backing the Three Lions included songwriter Frankie Bridge, who said: “Come on England! Me and my boys are so excited to watch the games and see the nation come together. We’ve got our England flags at the ready so best of luck team and do us all proud!”
Reality TV star Vicky Pattison said: “Come on lads! I’m wishing all the boys the best of luck this weekend. I’ll be there watching with tons of anticipation and excitement. What better timing to get together safely with friends and family and cheer on the boys!”
Classical singer Camilla Kerslake said: “We’ll be glued to the screens whatever the time difference from sunny California. So exciting to see fans back in stadiums cheering you on. You’re doing your nation proud.”
English Wimbledon stars were also among those willing England on against a team that has itself been on an emotional journey since Christian Eriksen’s collapse in their first game. Women’s singles player Harriet Dart said: “All the best to the England team against Denmark, keep pushing, it’s nearly home!”
Hospitality tickets for the game were being advertised at up to £6,500 on websites as desperate fans scrambled for the chance to watch history in the making. For those who cannot be in the ground, pubs are expected to serve up to 10 million pints tonight with 6.8 million during the two hours of the match, according to forecasts. This equates to more than 50,000 pints for every a minute of the game. The British Beer and Pub Association said that figure would be closer to 12 million had coronavirus restrictions not been in place.
Emma McClarkin, BBPA chief executive, said: “We hope that pubs will sell 6.8 million pints during the semi-final match. If the team goes on to win, a final at Wembley awaits, which would be a huge boost to our pubs.”
It came as Downing Street announced plans to extend pub opening hours by 15 minutes on Sunday evening to cater for the potential for extra time and penalties in the Euro 2020 final. However Denmark’s ambassador in London warned that England will face “Danish dynamite” at Wembley tonight.
Lars Thuesen claimed his country’s team are not the “underdogs” and backed them to win on penalties if the game goes to the wire. He hailed Denmark as an “amazing team”, branding them as “one of the best teams in Danish football history”. Asked about Danish football chants, he said: “We have a lot of songs and we have prepared all of them, we know them by heart because our flag is red and white. So we are red and white, we are Danish dynamite.”