Key workers in London have said that England’s 1-0 win over Croatia is a “cherry on the top of a very long year”.
Hundreds of people, including members of the emergency services and Transport for London (TfL), gathered in a special fanzone in Trafalgar Square, central London, as Gareth Southgate’s side secured the win.
Those invited arrived for the game draped in England flags and wearing official team shirts.
Rows of benches were set up inside the square, with two large screens either side of Nelson’s Column.
Crowds erupted at the fanzone as Raheem Sterling took England into the lead in the second half of the match.
Chants of “football’s coming home” broke out within the square and outside across the street where more England supporters had gathered to watch the game.
Sunny Vara, 41, an assets operation manager for TfL, said it was nice to see colleagues and “celebrate a win”.
“England have shown their true colours and they’ve won the game so that’s quite exciting to be here with all our colleagues and other key workers,” he told the PA news agency.
“All that hard work that we do on a day-to-day, when you’re putting 12 hours in and then coming out here and spending it with the people that are also celebrating the same thing.
“It’s quite stressful with the long hours and this is quite rewarding, that’s the best way of putting it, to be out with colleagues, key workers and to celebrate a win.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan praised the “heroic” staff members and said the excitement of the Euros was needed after “the darkness and trauma” of the pandemic.
“You saw here the elation and the release from our key workers when England scored and hopefully a good omen for the next few weeks,” he said following the match.
Rosie Baldock, 26, an emergency resource dispatcher for the London Ambulance Service, said the invitation to the fanzone was recognition for “how hard we’ve been working”.
“It’s been awful with a lot of pressure and it sort of reminds us what’s really important at the end of the day,” she said before the game.
“The fact we can celebrate out here today shows how hard we’ve been working.
“I just really want a good result, it would be a nice little cherry on top after a very long year.
“This shouldn’t have been possible if not for the policies we have in place and how hard we’ve been working.”
Ms Baldock, who attended the match with her brother Sam, correctly predicted a 1-0 win.
Christopher Waters, 46, an NHS transformation manager, came along with his 11-year-old son, Liam.
“We’ve really enjoyed it, it’s been very hot but we have so enjoyed coming out here. I’ve brought my son, for England to win, it’s a perfect start to the tournament and I can’t wait for the rest of it,” he said.
“We really appreciate that and we’re really lucky to have been able to enjoy this. It’s been brilliant.”
John McCarthy 41, a TfL staff trainer, said the event felt “normal” and he was “looking forward to being a bit more normal”.
“It’s really good because it was a long, hard slog and fairly constant, so it’s nice to be recognised,” he said.
“Who wouldn’t want to be here on a day like today?”
However, some workers said despite the “nice gesture”, more support was needed for key workers in the ongoing pandemic.
Dr Sarah Helps, 50, a consultant clinical psychologist, said: “It’s been a phenomenally difficult few months and we’re still not out of this.
“We still need to work very hard as a nation. We need to take things slowly.
“It’s a lovely thing to do and a very nice gesture, but it doesn’t solve the need for NHS workers to have a decent pay rise and better working conditions and sufficient PPE.”
Raj Bassi, 46, a TfL worker, said: “The sun is out, the football is on, and the beers are flowing, and it’s great to be here.”