Fifa World Cup: England fans in Hong Kong plunged into darkness as Croatia turn the lights out on Russia 2018
Football isn’t coming home but England supporters fled back to theirs from Hong Kong’s bars after staying up late to suffer semi-final agony
The two elderly Croatian fans in the bar at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club had barely got into the second verse of the Croatian national anthem and the fire exit door was already clanging as despondent England fans filed out into Ice House Street in Central.
Following the white and red replica shirts out into the humid night at 4.30am, after the full-time whistle had blown on another World Cup for England, it was as if someone had turned off a light switch.
The televisions in the bars of Lan Kwai Fong and Soho were certainly being switched off, or turned over to another channel.
Drinking establishments that had been packed to the walls minutes before were suddenly ghost towns, their business boom over for the tournament.
With a 2-1 extra-time defeat by Croatia in the semi-finals, the life was instantly sucked out of the World Cup in Hong Kong. A France-Croatia final just won’t get the same crowds on Sunday night.
Fans filed down the hill towards Queen’s Road, breaking down England’s latest disappointment at a major international tournament.
Distraught and despairing, they tried to find the nearest taxi to take them anywhere but here. Football wasn’t coming home, but everyone was immediately going to theirs.
Uber was unresponsive because of massive user demand; punters abandoned taxi rank queues after fruitlessly waiting for 15 minutes. Well, we did all have to be at work in a few hours.
Ahead of me, a group of French fans, whose team had awaited the winner of Wednesday’s match in the final, laughed at and mocked England’s demise.
One English fan, looking worse for wear as she sat slumped on the pavement, told them where to go in that universal profanity ending in “off”.
The French fans stopped and turned around, a little startled, then smiled and carried on.
For them, it doesn’t matter. They face Croatia at Luzhniki Stadium, with the match kicking off at 11pm here.
But for a large part of Hong Kong’s expatriate population, and the bars lapping up their business during this unexpected journey, the wind has gone out of their sails.
Even some of the millions who love to see England get beaten (in any sport) were on our side. It was a refreshing new era for a team devoid of the usual egos and entitled arrogance.
The final no longer feels like a must-see event, the way Germany v Argentina did four years ago.
The atmosphere had been electric in the FCC, which stayed open past its usual bedtime to host a special screening.
Then the lights started to dim when Ivan Perisic sneaked behind the England defence to equalise. The optimism of the last three weeks ushered in by manager Gareth Southgate suddenly washed away.
“The all-round perception was that this is a new-look England who have changed their ways of punting long balls upfield, but when we pressed them it turned out that they haven’t,” Croatia defender Sime Vrsaljko said.
Like the players, we England fans reverted to panic mode. “Get rid of it!” were the shouts any time an England player found themselves on the ball in their own box. It’s the English way – the ball is a bomb.
Despite the attempts by the British media to gloss this over as a positive for once, it was a familiar ending for England fans, a feeling of disappointment and thoughts of what might have been.
The official England Twitter account tweeted: “To everyone who supported us. To everyone who believed this time was different. To everyone who wasn’t afraid to dream. To everyone who knows this is only the beginning. Thank you. We hope we made you proud.”
Sure, football hasn’t “come home” in a way like this since 1996, when Frank Skinner and David Baddiel’s iconic “Three Lions” anthem was the soundtrack of England’s run to the semi-finals of the European Championship on home soil.
But this one will sting for a while. “Gutted,” is how most of England’s players summed it up on social media.
They knew this was a missed opportunity, and so did England’s following who had stayed up with them, bleary eyed, through those 2am kick-offs from Russia.
Some nice memories were made – the last-minute winner from Harry Kane against Tunisia; the 6-1 demolition of Panama that got England fans believing again; and bringing an end to our penalty shoot-out curse against Colombia in the last 16.
But the result was the same – instead of ending England’s long wait for a first trophy since 1966, add this one to the group of plucky defeats, like the Italia ’90 semi-final exit, or when Southgate himself missed the decisive penalty against Germany at Euro ’96.
As much as Croatia went and earned this win, by growing into the game and dominating possession before Mario Mandzukic struck an extra-time winner, it was England who threw it away from 1-0 up.
Three Lions on the shirt, but still only one star. Ad infinitum.