Are our 52 years of hurt coming to an end?
At 7pm today, the Fylde coast will grind to a halt to watch England take on Croatia in a World Cup semi-final.
Roads will be left empty, bars will record their busiest day of the year, and the electricity board will brace itself for that infamous half-time cup-of-tea surge.
The St George’s Flag is waving proudly above the Tower as the nation holds its breath and dares itself to ask: Could football really be coming home?
For the first time since Italia ‘90, the England men’s team is in the last four, just 90 to 120 minutes – plus the potential for dreaded penalties – away from booking their place in the final.
The last time that happened was at Wembley in 1966, and we all know how that ended.
We sent a reporter to speak to residents in the aptly-named England Avenue, Bispham, yesterday, where they spoke of their bubbling excitement at what lies ahead.
Nick Allford, 72, a retired engineer who has lived there for 30 years, said: “I want the boys to get to the final like anyone else does. It is a nice thought living on England Avenue, but I wouldn’t celebrate any less living somewhere else.”
Shop worker Catharine Spencer, 51, added: “I don’t really need a flag outside my house when I live on England Avenue! I think we will celebrate, just like any other street in Blackpool – but it will probably be a bit quieter than town.”
And builder Adam Chilton, 39, said: “If England win the World Cup, I think there will be a party on every street – not just this one. Everyone has been shocked at how well they have done when you consider the last few tournaments.”
Hairdresser Emma Reeves, 26, added: “I can’t stand football normally, but because it has been everywhere and how far they have come, I have watched a few of the games.”
Resort venues also spoke of their anticipation of the hordes of footie fans – waving flags, wearing shirts and red crosses on their faces – finishing work and flocking to watch the games with the crowds on big screens.
At Ma Kelly’s Showboat on the Promenade in Bispham, a team of 20 staff – significantly more than the two to three on a ‘usual’ Wednesday, will serve fans able to see the match on big screens inside and out.
Boss Paul Kelly said he doesn’t expect today to be as busy as Saturday, when the Sweden game kicked off at 3pm and the “atmosphere was unbelievable”, but said a World Cup final with England in it on Sunday could be the busiest day of the year.
Bev Hogarth, duty manager at the Saddle Inn, in Whitegate Drive, Blackpool, said: “We are looking for it to be even busier than the Saturday game, which was really hectic. It’ll probably be our busiest day of the year.”
And Steve Norris, landlord at The Taps, Henry Street, Lytham, added: “The atmosphere is going to be electric. Every game it has got busier and busier. It’s just such a feel-good factor.
“It will probably be our busiest day of the year so far, and if they get through to the final it will be unbelievable.”
Amy Brown, from Viva Vegas Diner on the Prom in Blackpool town centre, said: “We will have our big outdoor screen on as well as the massive one inside.”
Other venues, such as The Shovels in Common Edge Road, Marton, and The Washington in Topping Street, Blackpool town centre, said they would be having special screenings.
Conservative councillor for Warbreck, Danny Scott, took the picture (opposite page)on the beach opposite the former Hilton hotel in Blackpool and, despite being from Belfast and speaking in a broad Northern Irish accent, said he will be cheering on the Three Lions.
“My wife is English and our children are English and I have been here since 1971, and I love the Premier League,” he said.
“I put the picture on Facebook and have over 3,600 shares. It’s coming home!
“This is the best World Cup since 1966.”
One Blackpool trader, who asked not to be named, called on people to ‘reclaim the flag’ after he sold more bearing the colours of Sweden than England ahead of last weekend’s quarter-final.
He said: “I think people fear retaliation from minorities because they class it as a racist flag. We have seen a massive drop in [sales of] St George’s flags.
“You have to be cautious putting it on your car because you might get your windows smashed.
“I think it’s because of far right groups going on rallies and they use the flag and it has put a stain on it, sadly.”
The businessman echoed the thoughts of former England player Stan Collymore, who posted a message on his Instagram account to mark St George’s Day on April 23.
Alongside a picture of the flag, he said: “More important than ever to reclaim the flag from those who want to divide us. Home, sweet home.”
The trader also said sales had been hit by pubs and clubs being told not to fly the flag – which he said had “put people off.”
One major chain also reportedly told workers they must not display the St George’s Cross, but handed out bunting bearing every flag of the 32 nations in the tournament instead.
Former Man Utd starlet Joe Riley, who signed for Bradford City earlier this summer, launched a poll on his Twitter account yesterday, asking: “Lytham Green or Lytham Hall to set up a big screen if England make the WORLD CUP FINAL[?]”
As of yesterday afternoon, 85 per cent of more than 200 people had voted yes – though Fylde Council has already refused bids to show games to outdoor crowds at both venues.
The authority said it was “because of a lack of notification required to licence the broadcast or provide resources.”
Wyre Council said it needed 10 working days to sort through the red tape, while Blackpool Council said it is busy looking into ways it could provide a big outdoor screen should England be in with a shout of grabbing footie’s biggest prize on Sunday.
What effect an England win has on our shops and emergency services
Ambulances dealt with as many calls as they traditionally do on New Year’s Eve after England’s World Cup win against Sweden.
The Association of Ambulance Chief Executives said many ambulance services across the country received as many calls as they usually do on December 31 - traditionally the busiest night of the year for paramedics.
It has issued an appeal to England fans to only dial 999 in a life-threatening situation.
Police in Lancashire dealt with a record number of calls in a 24-hour period over the weekend – with a ‘surge in demand’ after the Swedes were defeated 2-0.
The county’s assistant chief constable Terry Woods said the calls were “predominantly alcohol-fuelled violence, including domestic and serious assaults.”
Elsewhere, emergency services hit out at the “disgraceful” minority of fans.
Sgt Wayne Baker, with West Yorkshire Police, tweeted his disgust after pictures emerged of revellers dancing on top of an ambulance in central London.
In Nottingham, a group of supporters were seen dancing on top of a bus shelter, while other clips from Manchester and Birmingham showed people on top of buses with their shirts off.
Footage from Clapham, south London, saw a fan plunge through a glass bus stop roof after leaping from the top of a double-decker bus. In one video, a car can be seen with a smashed roof and windscreen in Nottingham.
A crowd of supporters were also filmed rushing into an Ikea in Stratford, east London, dancing on the furniture and kicking items around.
“It is fantastic that England are doing so well in the World Cup and we are encouraging supporters to enjoy the football by staying safe in the hot weather and drinking responsibly,” said Martin Flaherty, managing director of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives.
“We also want people to spare a thought for all of the hard working NHS staff who will be on duty during the games and support them by only using ambulance and A&E services if they are absolutely necessary and treating those staff with respect.”
Some supermarkets are to close their doors early amid signs of a quiet Sunday afternoon on the High Street if England make it through to the World Cup final.
In the event of a win against Croatia tonight, Aldi and Lidl stores across England will close early at 3pm on Sunday, an hour before kick-off.
Lidl UK chief executive Christian Hartnagel said: “As the official supermarket of the England football team, we absolutely believe it’s coming home, which is why we are planning to close stores an hour early, and take part in what we hope will become a day of national celebration.”
Based on last week’s figures, Tesco is predicting it will sell around four million burgers, more than 50 million bottles and cans of beer and cider, 25,000 electric fans and almost 70,000 disposable barbecues as the celebratory atmosphere continues.
Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer is encouraging the nation to support the team by wearing waistcoats on “#waistcoatwednesday” in a nod to Gareth Southgate’s pitch-side attire.
The Three Lions manager has sported a navy blue Marks & Spencer one throughout England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals in Russia, which has led to increased sales and more Google searches for the item back home.
M&S said waistcoat sales had doubled since the tournament began on June 14, with website searches up by over 100 per cent.
5 things to look out for
Can England cope with the occasion?
This is the Three Lions’ first World Cup semi-final in 28 years, offering the opportunity of a first appearance in the final since the glory of 1966.
While the way Gareth Southgate’s men respond to the situation remains to be seen, the growing excitement among the supporters has been clear.
Will Kane be a record-breaker?
The Spurs striker and England captain remains top of the Golden Boot standings, and will be looking to add to his six-goal haul.
If he does, he will usurp Gary Lineker (Mexico 1986) in terms of most goals netted at a single World Cup by an England player.
More heroics from Pickford?
The 24-year-old followed up his superb saves in the last-16 tie against Colombia with a number of fine stops on Saturday and it may well be further heroics from him, as much as from Kane, that sees England through.
Luka Modric the main danger man?
The Real Madrid man is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world and gave a particularly eye-catching demonstration of what he can do with his fine strike in the 3-0 group-stage win over Argentina.
Team-mates Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic can also cause considerable problems.
Croatia have won in each of the last two rounds via penalties, and while England have Pickford, who made such a superb stop to keep out Carlos Bacca’s effort from 12 yards, their opponents have Danijel Subasic, who has pulled off four shootout saves so far in Russia.