“It’s one of the biggest football rivalries,” explained a man decked in the St George’s cross colours to his friend, who was evidently unaware of England’s history with neighbours Germany, which dates back to the 19th century.
On a rainy, chilly Sunday afternoon in London, the duo were among thousands of fans who hiked it across from the Wembley Central underground station towards the Wembley Stadium for the England women football team’s first ever game at the venue, against six-time European champions Germany.
Not only did the fans brave the weather, but also disruptions on the tube line caused by planned engineering works, which is why the Football Association capped the ticket sales to 55,000.
In spite of the weather, it was a festive atmosphere in and around Wembley. The FA had dropped ticket prices to £10 for adults and £2 for children, which provided for the occasion to be an ideal family outing on a Sunday.
“Who is the captain of England?” asked a young boy to his father, while waiting in the line to buy hot dogs. Steph Houghton may not be as popular as Wayne Rooney, but it didn’t really matter on the day. This was, after all, a historic occasion.
After being banned for 50 years from any professional football ground, the Lionesses were finally playing on the hallowed Wembley turf.
Women’s football has come a long way in the last 20 years. According to figures released by the FA last year, more than 1.4 million female players play football on a regular basis. There are more than 5,000 girls teams, compared to 80 in 1993, and almost 1,500 registered adult sides in the country.
It didn’t matter that England had failed to beat world no. 2 Germany in 20 previous meetings. The atmosphere inside the stadium prior to kick-off was buzzing.
The announcement of the England line-up on the big screen was met with thunderous cheers. So to was The X Factor 2008 winner Alexandra Burke, who was drafted in to sing the national anthem.
Finally, when winger Karen Carney was felicitated for winning her 100th cap, the Wembley was ready for a spectacle.
Thus, when Jordan Nobbs hit the crossbar from 25 yards barely 30 seconds into the game, for a moment the crowd dreamt of a fairytale.
However, it was soon brought crashing down by a disciplined, tactically and skilfully superior German side, led inspiringly from the front by captain Celia Sasic.
Die Nationalelf grabbed the lead in the sixth minute via Simone Laudehr, before Sasic went on to add two more before the half-time whistle, effectively ending the contest.
The result didn’t stop the Wembley crowd from enjoying their Sunday. Every attacking move by England raised the decibels, while any corresponding move by the Germans was mildly booed.
It took the 25th minute of the first half, when England were already 2-0 down, for the first Mexican wave to start. The band was rolling out all the songs, while the crowd chanted along waving their flags, scarves and banners.
However, at least 10,000 people who had purchased tickets did not turn up for the game, with the weather and the tube disruption likely to be the most probable factors. The official attendance for the game was 45,619 out of the 55,000 tickets sold.
It was still 5,000 more than the numbers recorded at the men’s team’s last friendly at the stadium a couple of months ago — 40,181.
The final whistle was met with a loud applause, despite the home side coming out 3-0 losers. The occasion was clearly bigger than the result.
“It was wet and freezing, but it was still a decent match to watch,” said Nicole, 28. “Germany were superb in the first half and fully exposed England’s defensive lapses, but we put up a decent fight in the second half.”
“For my two girls, the Mexican wave was the highlight,” said Maggie, 41.