It’s a World Cup mired in controversy, but determined fans who gathered to watch England’s first match of the tournament on big screens were rewarded with a thrilling 6-2 victory.
At one bustling fan zone in London, many had booked the day off – or simply given work the slip.
“I asked my boss to give me the day off. I tried to get them to give me the whole month,” said Iker Verduzco.
The stadiums of Qatar might be free of beer, but there was no shortage of it at Budweiser’s Fifa Fan Fest in Tottenham Court Road where, even during the daytime on a wet Monday, may were getting early drinks in to celebrate the start of England’s World Cup campaign.
“I’m happy to be drinking pints at 11 in the morning on a Monday,” said Monty Singh, 25. His friend, 25-year-old Hugh Lilburn, was “slightly nervous” for the match but “excited” nonetheless.
The crowd was already revved up before kick-off by former England stars Peter Shilton and Teddy Sheringham, but there was much to celebrate in England’s first match. Cheers erupted after each of the six goals and as fans got increasingly lively as the scale of England’s opening win became clear.
“Southgate you’re the one … football’s coming home again,” was chanted thoughout the second half, and the final whistle saw hands, arms and branded hats tossed into the air
Despite the excitement, fans did not forget the World Cup’s controversies – including the revelation just hours before captain Harry Kane would not wear the OneLove armband in support of the LGBT+ community in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are criminalised.
Fifa had threatened the team with sporting sanctions, with Kane potentially facing a booking before the match even got underway.
England fans sing ‘Southgate you’re the one’ during first World Cup match
“I understand the want for Fifa to stay away from political intervention but disappointing to see people can’t express themselves,” said Andrew Barrett, 24.
Danielle Farnfield, 27, said: “I would rather have seen them take the yellow card and take the stand against it and wear it. It’s the right thing to do.”
Farrell Monk, 35, said it was “disappointing” to hear the Football Association had dropped the armband. “If there was any integrity, they probably should have just taken the punishment.”
His friend hoped England would do well because “everyone is feeling a bit disconnected” at the moment. “That’s nothing to do with the England team,” said Rufus Thompson, pint in hand. “There’s a lot of question marks around the competition. Hopefully we can put all that aside and still put in a good performance.”
But Joe Craddock, 37, watching near the bar, said he “couldn’t care less” about the World Cup hosting.
“There’s a lot of people making political points,” he told The Independent. “End of the day, the football is on. Let’s watch it and get behind England.”
The Iranian team took a political stance of their own before the match, refusing the sing the national anthem in solidarity with anti-government protesters at home.
“We can imagine there’s a lot on the minds of both teams but Iran are in turmoil,” one Iranian fan told The Independent.
“Unfortunately the result has not been in our favour but at the end of the day the team is with the people. That is something we are proud of.”
England fans celebrate World Cup second half goals against Iran
After the match, Mr Verduzco said he would be spending the rest of the day watching the other games “and having more drinks”.
Mr Lilburn has settled his pre-match nerves. “I thought it was incredible, it’s exactly the start of the World Cup we all need.” Next on his agenda was watching the Wales vs USA game.
“It’s the World Cup. You’ve got to watch every game … Write off your next three weeks. The World Cup is here.”