Beers and tears! Thousands watch England’s World Cup exit in Camden parks
Parks provide the perfect setting for a World Cup party but fans watch in dismay as England lose to Croatia
Fans in Russell Square as England crash out of the World Cup
THE parties in the park were going so well: a warm summer’s evening, everybody in good spirit and voice and confidence running high that football was at long last coming home.
After all, England were just one step from the World Cup final and chance to emulate the legend of 1966. This was a night when Arsenal and Spurs fans could be on the same team across north London; a festival too in which even those who insist they do not like the game are drawn into the rich drama of it all.
Thousands had decided that they were not going to watch this historic fixture in a stuffy pub or at home on the settee, and instead accepted Camden Council’s sudden invitation to watch with friends and family on giant screens erected in Talacre Gardens in Kentish Town and Russell Square in Bloomsbury.
Families get ready for kick off at Talacre and, below, supporters arrive in Camden Town to watch the match with friends in the pub
Even local authorities, we now know, can be struck by World Cup fever and the Town Hall has been widely been praised for tapping into the enthusiasm that had been building behind England’s bid to bring the trophy home from Russia.
It was not to be, however. And were we fools for thinking otherwise? Instead it was another chapter in the life of an England fan – an evening bursting with hope, belief and then a crashing comedown as Gareth Southgate’s team were beaten in extra time by Croatia.
1-0 up at Russell Square
The fact it all seemed to be within reach makes it harder to take. Within five minutes, England had gone ahead through a dazzling free-kick by Kieran Trippier, the Spurs full back, with the crowds in both parks erupting in ecstasy. Southgate, You’re The One, to the tune of Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again, rang out through Russell Square and plastic beer cups were thrown into the sky, while at a more family-orientated gathering at Talacre children ran wild with delight.
Camden councillors join the party
Council leader Georgia Gould, who led the big screen planning, was among the crowd in full England kit and wrapped in a flag. She looked crestfallen later in the evening when things took a turn for the worse.
Staff at The Good Mixer pub in Camden Town celebrate the early goal
Fans in Russell Square sense that football is coming home after Trippier gives England the lead
By half-time, supporters were fairly wondering whether England could have been two or three goals ahead such was their dominance of the match. A final on Sunday against France was well within in sight.
But no amount of wishing, hoping and praying could halt Croatia’s determined comeback. England were suddenly faltering and 20 minutes from the end the scores were level when Ivan Perisic netted an equaliser. Suddenly, the team was hanging on, and the worried faces among the crowds told their own story.
The full-time whistle went and 30 minutes of extra time were needed to split the teams, but now Croatia were looking more likely to score a winner and sure enough, with 10 minutes to go until a penalty shootout, Mario Mandzukic did just that.
Hope and heartbreak at Talacre
When that goal went in, there were wails of disbelief in the parks. Men walked away from the screen unable to digest what had happened. One supporter crawled himself into a ball on the grass in Russell Square, and a few moments later began punching the ground in utter frustration.
The tension very briefly spilled over at the end of the match too. Bottles were thrown at the big screen, a section was broken, and one woman had a cut face, but the stewards moved quickly to calm the dejected fans.
Supporters watching in Bloomsbury wonder where it all went wrong
Other supporters voluntarily began helping with a litter pick in both Russell Square and Talacre. While on Saturday, fans had caused roadblocks in Camden Town and Kentish Town after England had beaten Sweden in the quarter-finals, last night fans largely departed as quickly as possible.
Croatia go 2-1 up at the North Star pub in Swiss Cottage
Exuberant celebration seemed more of a challenge – men were diving into the canal on Saturday – than the disconsolate nature of a semi-final defeat.
There were similar scenes in pubs across Camden: every bar that was showing the football was teeming with people. Those unable to get in were seen watching the match through pub windows in King’s Cross and West Hampstead, happy to stand in the streets and watch the highs and lows of another topsy-turvy World Cup defeat together.