Football fever grips England

Football fever grips England

Football fever is sweeping England as its young team prepares for a World Cup semifinal showdown against Croatia, and nowhere more so than in Sheffield, the proclaimed birthplace of the modern game.

Around 150 miles (240 kilometres) north of London, the city has a rich football history that continues today.

Three players in the current squad -- quarterfinal goal-scoring hero Harry Maguire, defender Kyle Walker and forward Jamie Vardy -- were raised there.

The English flag, known as the St George's Cross, is omnipresent, flying from flats, cars and businesses throughout the formerly industrial so-called Steel City.

"It makes us feel proud of Sheffield knowing they come from here," said Fitsroy Turner, 43, a construction worker.

Even a local priest is getting in on the enthusiasm, sporting a waistcoat -- which England manager Gareth Southgate has made famous by wearing for every match -- during Sunday mass.

For the first time in this tournament, the local council will show Wednesday's semifinal on a 43-square-metre screen in the city centre with room for up to 10,000 fans.

The city will be celebrating its local heroes at the fan-zone under the banner "Made in Sheffield", Richard Eyre, its head of major events, told AFP.

Software developer Jonas Bezzubovas, 24, said every England victory so far had been marked by hours of revelry, but Wednesday promises to be the biggest yet.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime match," he said.

"I feel like the heat and the football have gone to people's heads -- it's been madness here," he added, referring to weeks of uninterrupted sunshine that has been warming usually rain-sodden English spirits.

England's progress into the latter stages of the World Cup has been accompanied by ever-increasing chants of "It's coming home" -- the country's resurrected theme song from the 1996 European Championships it hosted.

In this part of the world, home means Sheffield.

FIFA, world football's governing body, recognises Sheffield FC -- formed in 1857 and now playing in the eighth tier of English football -- as the oldest club on the planet.

Apart from the three Sheffield-born players, four more members of the current England squad have connections to the city or surrounding county of Yorkshire.

"Sheffield is immensely proud of its footballing heritage," said Mary Lea, a local cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure.

"Across the city, pubs and clubs have been packed into the early hours celebrating England's successes.

"For Sheffield it really is coming home."


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