LONDON — It may not be coming home after all, but despite falling a match short of playing for soccer's World Cup trophy, England's team will still receive a hero's welcome.
“They're coming home ... but everyone's a hero,” proclaimed the Sun newspaper. “End of the dream,” read the Guardian's front page.
And what a dream it was, even if it lasted only a matter of weeks. For millions of people, seeing England reach the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 28 years was the boost the country needed. Few believed that the team could make it so far; after all, the country's last World Cup win was back in 1966.
Exceeding what started out as relatively low expectations, the team delivered, uniting Brits in their patriotism and their chants of “Come on, England!” The catchphrase, “It's coming home,” became an article of faith.
Beyond the incredible memes, the catchy songs and the beers hurtling through the air whenever a goal was scored, England's World Cup story represents so much more than a game of soccer.
These are turbulent times. Last year brought a snap election triggered by Britain's shock decision to leave the European Union. Last summer saw a string of terrorist attacks in London and a bombing that targeted mainly women and children at a concert in Manchester. In June 2017, the nation also faced its deadliest fire in modern British history. The Grenfell Tower blaze claimed the lives of 71 people, although many believe the death toll to be much higher. Stories and video footage from that night haunt not only the survivors and families of those who died, but members of the public who feel increasingly let down by the government's response to the tragedy.
In the midst of this year's political chaos, government resignations and exhaustive Brexit talks, Brits have been searching for something positive to focus on. Something to unite them. Something to be proud of.
England's World Cup team provided just that.
Week after week, fans across the country came together in parks, in pubs and at home to cheer on their boys. They watched wearing red and white. They watched with flags painted on their faces. And they watched with pride in their hearts. Fans sang, live-tweeted, and, of course, some swooned over waistcoat-wearing manager Gareth Southgate. After each win, footage circulated on social media of fans dancing in the streets and embracing one another. Cars honked their horns way into the night.
In a nation that at times has felt so divided, England's matches seemed to glue the nation back together — even if only for a short while.
Ahead of Wednesday's semifinal, millions truly believed that the World Cup championship — and, by extension, soccer itself — really was “coming home” to the sport's birthplace. Despite England's loss to Croatia in that semifinal, emotional fans paid tribute to the players. In a pub in Walthamstow, in east London, a few welled up with tears in their eyes as the final whistle was blown. Others clapped and praised the team's performance. In Moscow where the match was played, fans sang Oasis's “Don't Look Back in Anger,” a moving performance that has since been viewed by millions of people around the world.
Soccer may not be coming home, lads, but it sure brought people back together.