England players, celebrities and politicians today urged the country to rally behind the national team to help them to a morale-boosting winning start at the World Cup.
The calls were led by Theresa May who said in a message to the Three Lions: “Best of luck to the England team — the whole country will be cheering you on back home.”
The Prime Minister’s backing came as Gareth Southgate’s squad made final preparations for their opening Group G game against Tunisia in Volgograd this evening.
A strong performance at the Russian tournament will help end painful memories of England’s disastrous appearances at the last World Cup in Brazil in 2014, and the Euros in France two years later. There was excitement in the England camp as the squad landed in the city, formerly known as Stalingrad, before heading to their hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, close to the Volgograd Arena.
Goalkeeper Jack Butland said in a tweet: “Send us victorious. Let’s Go. #ThreeLions” while England captain and Tottenham striker Harry Kane boldly declared: “I think we can win it.”
He was backed by strike partner Jamie Vardy and Manchester United defender Phil Jones. Leicester City’s Vardy told the Evening Standard: “We are all here with a winning mentality and are here to win. We are all confident we have the mentality to win. We have won things with our respective clubs and want to take that to the international stage.”
Vardy’s wife, reality TV star Rebekah, 36, and children Megan, 13, Taylor, eight, Sofia, three, and one-year-old Finley, all sporting England shirts, flew to Russia by private jet to support him. He went on: “On our day we can beat anyone and cause any team problems. That gives us confidence to think we can win. It’s a massive chance and we want the nation to be behind us, but we have to make sure we put the performance in to give fans back home a reason to get behind us.”
Centre back Jones agreed, saying: “Everyone is proud to put the shirt on — it is not a cliche, that’s how we feel, to sing that national anthem at a major tournament is an incredible feeling.
“We got a great send-off from the supporters before coming out to Russia. Hopefully everyone back home gets behind us and we’ll do everything we can to make the country proud too.” Celebrities also threw themselves behind the squad ahead of tonight’s 7pm kick-off.
Model Naomi Campbell told the Standard: “Good luck to my home country England! My fingers are crossed and I will be cheering you on all the way!”
Soccer Aid veteran and singer Olly Murs said: “Come on boys — you’re a great young squad, and we’re all behind you!! Fight all the way to the end!”
West End star Beverley Knight added: “England we need your triple A game! Bring it! We’re with you! #OneNationUnderAFootieGroove.”
Politicians from across the divide also said England’s youthful squad could succeed where so many of their predecessors have fallen short.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The whole country will be cheering on our young and talented England players. Everyone — young and old, from every background — are proud of the England team today.”
Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We are all massively behind England to beat the odds to lift the World Cup and the nation. The early games have shown it’s wide open so let’s get behind the boys.”
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “To paraphrase Hamilton, the England team — just like their country — are young, scrappy and hungry — and I hope they lead a football revolution”
Shadow sports minister, Labour’s Rosena Allin-Khan said: “For the first time in recent memory, the England team kick off a World Cup campaign without the pressure of a nation demanding immediate success.
“As a country, we expect just one thing, and that is for the squad to play their hearts out and build for the future.
“Southgate and the FA have been absolutely correct in adopting this as a strategy. It is the World Cup where anything is possible. We can do it, so go out there and make us proud!”
Meanwhile, in London one husband and wife said they will be watching the match from opposite sides of the room. While Frances Boukraa will be wearing a Three Lions shirt and cheering on Gareth Southgate’s team, her husband Abdel will be proudly flying the flag for Tunisia.
But the couple, from Shepherd’s Bush, who lived in Tunisia for four years before moving to London 29 years ago, say the conflict is a “happy one”.
Mr Boukraa, 65, who grew up on the Tunisian island of Djerba, said: “My family is English, I have spent much of my life here, this is my home, and I love both countries. But Tunisia is in my blood, so there is no question who I am supporting.”
The couple, who have three grown-up children, run Adam’s Cafe on Askew Road. They will be showing the match there tonight.