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Boos rock England fans’ Cologne party as team turn clock back 15 years | England

TUnder the watchful eye of the summer sun, tens of thousands of people arrived, packed tightly into the silver sausage carriages of Cologne’s trams, swarming on Lime electric scooters, hobbling around on rented bikes, walking, singing Phil Foden songs with the windows down in Ubers. This is England, travelling in England, just don’t think too much about the football.

After 10 days of rain and subpar performances, it felt like the moment everyone had been waiting for had arrived: 30 degree temperatures in a big city with freeways, parks, plenty of restaurants, bars and kiosks where you could stock up on different brands of German beer and keep the party going.

An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 England supporters were in town to watch the game, and they were. Perhaps inevitably, it was a more diverse crowd than the ones milling about Gelsenkirchen: not just ethnicity and gender, but class and age. There were young families, retired couples, people with belly tattoos, people wearing chinos. There were also quite a few Germans dressed in England uniforms, but only self-consciously. The more the merrier.

The great thing about the Cologne stadium is that there’s a park just outside, or at least a couple of empty training pitches. Four hours before kick-off, people sit on the grass, catch their breath and forget about the world for a while. For those who didn’t believe the supporters’ group’s advice that the trams might be a bit creaky under heavy demand, there’s still the central square, Heumarkt, designated as the main zone for drinking and kicking footballs high into the air.

Standing at one end of the square were Iran and Mark from London, both veterans of previous tours of England. For Iran, it was the football itself that mattered, but for Mark, it was the experience that mattered. “It’s fun to see so many people from so many countries, no trouble, everyone enjoying themselves,” he said, without a smile. He didn’t like the persistent German Bomber chants from some of the visiting supporters, and he wasn’t a fan of Gareth Southgate’s England, but he still believed “we’ll go far in the tournament.” Iran was more optimistic. “We’re starting to prepare and learn, and hopefully we’ll get there,” he said.

England fans are not a monolith, even if crowd behaviour, such as the boos that rang out around the stadium after another poor performance at the end of the game, defined the general perception of how they felt. They are not a people who only think about football.

Another block away, relaxing in the shade of a historic plane tree, were four young friends from South London, Frank, Harry, Jack and Fred, on their second trip to England. “Last time we slept in the car, but this time we’re in a hostel, so it’s easy,” said Frank. “Germany is unreal for drinking beer, meeting people and moving around,” said Fred. “I’ve taken about 15 trains and none of them have been on time. Southern Rail is the best,” said Jack.

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For the friends, the trip is a celebration, a chance to hang out, relax and gain new experiences all with one common thread: the game – “we’re all connected by football,” Harry says – and the four lads have a pretty eclectic view of where their team is at right now.

“I was just saying this the other day,” Harry said, “We may have done better than we expected in previous tournaments. In 2018 and 2020, we didn’t expect to do that well and everything felt like a win. But now that we’ve come this far in the last three tournaments, we’ve gone back to where we were 15 years ago and thought we should win it all. The pressure’s on them again.”

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