Breaking News Emails
LONDON — The English are well-known for joking about two things when it comes to their homeland: its underachieving soccer team and its bad weather.
For a few glorious weeks, both the national squad and the summer itself far exceeded expectations.
An unusual, weeks-long heatwave also subsided, with clouds descending on London Thursday. The changing weather seemed to reflect the national mood.
“The whole of London just seems sad. It’s a bit gloomy here,” said Amy Bovington, a 28-year-old England fan who works for a government sports agency. “The sun’s gone, and we’re back to just normal.”
Bovington attended a huge public screening of Wednesday's game in London’s Hyde Park. She said the feel-good togetherness among the 30,000 attendees was tangible.
“It was amazing, honestly it was so good," she recalled. "Everyone was so happy, the place was buzzing."
But the mood Thursday wasn't entirely somber.
There is widespread pride about a young and likable team made up of players from diverse backgrounds.
Together with manager Gareth Southgate — a man with quiet dignity, clear generosity of spirit and a penchant for vests — they have successfully galvanized a nation riven with division as it comes to terms with the still-murky consequences of the decision to leave the European Union, or Brexit.
As one of the youngest teams in the tournament and shorn of the bigger-name, underachieving superstars of previous years, few expected Southgate's squad to progress as far as it did.
Hannah Rogerson, a cafe worker, told NBC News that she wasn’t much of a soccer fan before the tournament, but had embraced England’s World Cup journey.
“It’s been great,” she said while preparing coffee for a customer in the Exmouth Market area of central London. “I was born in 1998, so I literally haven’t had a World Cup where we’ve done any good at all. It’s been so good.”
Wednesday's game was English men's first World Cup semifinal appearance since 1990.
Even in defeat, there was still a real sense of national pride, according to Bovington.
“When the game finished, it was nice to see people clapping the team, and saying, 'well done,' and that they’d done amazingly," she added. "Everyone’s just appreciated how hard they’d worked.”
England’s success has also been a boon for the city’s pubs, with fans clamoring to watch the games with pints in hand.
Gareth Kerr owns two soccer-themed bars that have been screening the tournament.
"It's been brilliant," Kerr said over a morning espresso at his Cafe Kick.
He said English fans have "so many songs they just go nuts about," adding: "And they drink like the others don't!"
Kerr recounted how triumphant England fans outside his bar in the Shoreditch area of east London celebrated so much earlier in the tournament that they had to close down the entire street, with the “football’s coming home” refrain from The Lightning Seeds’ 1996 England team song "Three Lions" ringing through the neighborhood.
The song's “it’s coming home” lyric has become the de facto national catchphrase and default greeting for the English in recent weeks.
Its use started almost as a joke earlier in the tournament given the perceived implausibility of England success.
But as the wins kept coming, it increasingly became a sincere expression of hope and belief.
Now that the welcome distraction provided by dreams of World Cup glory is over, England has little choice but to turn its attention to pressing geopolitical issues.
President Donald Trump arrived in London on Thursday, where he is expected to face huge protests.
And the U.K. government is in the midst of a Brexit-related crisis, which has left Prime Minister Theresa May clinging to power.
For fans, the reality of the post-World Cup world is hitting hard.
“With everything else going on at the moment, the country isn’t great,” Bovington said. “Now it’s over, it’s back to normal life and everything that comes with it.”