When the England-Croatia match kicks off at Wembley on Sunday, for Gary it will be almost like the good old days when Corona was a brand of beer, Delta was a US domestic airline and PPE was something people studied at posh universities.
Gary and seven mates, plus a six-month-old baby, will gather round his 75-inch television to cheer on England with beers and burgers. Gary knows they will be breaking the law, which limits indoor gatherings to six people, but he’s comfortable with his own risk assessment.
“All of us have had at least one jab. All the windows and doors will be open. This is not a mass gathering. I know Covid infections are increasing but they’re still low where I live,” he said. “In that context, we feel OK about it.”
The scene in Gary’s house is likely to be replicated in other homes as frustrations with pandemic restrictions crash head-on with excitement over the delayed 2020 European championships. Anyone sitting in their back garden, or near an open window this weekend, can expect to hear collective cheers and groans rising into the warm mid-summer air.
Across the UK, pubs and other venues have worked hard to accommodate fans’ desire to watch the Euros with mates and others, while keeping within the law.
Many pubs have installed extra large screens outside, with nearly all requiring seats to be booked in advance. MatchPint, a website and app that allows users to find pubs showing games, has seen a sharp rise in traffic in the run-up to the tournament.
“We’ve rarely seen more interest from fans or pubs. It’s partly down to fan excitement and the desire from pubs to recover revenue lost to Covid last year. But it also reflects uncertainty. It’s unclear how long restrictions will remain, so fans are jumping at the chance to find and book tables at pubs definitely showing the game,” said Dom Collingwood, MatchPint’s co-founder.
Almost nine out of 10 pubs that showed sport pre-Covid will be showing the Euros, and MatchPint was expecting half a million searches over the course of the tournament, he added.
Dedicated “fan zones” have been set up in Glasgow and London. Up to 6,000 ticket-holders will be able to enjoy a “festival atmosphere” on Glasgow Green for 31 days of the tournament, with food, drinks and activities laid on, as well as screenings. Concerns have been raised amid rising infection rates in the city. Wales has banned fan zones for public health reasons.
The Trafalgar Square fan zone in central London will be restricted to 750 key workers for the first week of the tournament, with the hope that up to 9,500 will be able to watch matches if Covid restrictions are eased on 21 June. Another fan zone near Tower Bridge has capacity for 2,500 people.
Large venues, such as Euro Warehouse in London, Secret Space in Birmingham and Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester, will be showing matches on giant screens. The Showcase Cinemas chain is offering free entry to screenings.
Most fans, however, are likely to watch in small groups at home. Milly has borrowed a projector and rigged up a bedsheet in her back garden. “I haven’t tested it yet but, if it works, I’m happy to go up to the limit. My garden is quite small, so the maximum will be 15 people. It will be great to have friends over and talk about something other than Covid,” she said.
Gary, who had a ticket to today’s England-Croatia game at Wembley, but lost out when numbers were restricted, said his gathering would be “the first time for a very long time that I’ve had the lads round for beer and footie. It used to be a fairly regular occurrence but Covid and babies have put a stop to it. This will be a special day – especially if England win.”