The victory was never in question, only the score. England fans flush from 30-degree heat and cold lager celebrated their 6-1 thumping of an outmatched Panama in Nizhny Novgorod, clinching a spot in the knockout stages of the 2018 World Cup.
“I’m in a dream world!” shouted Barry Hughes, 53, a transplant from near Glasgow to Bristol, as he glided out of Nizhny Novgorod Stadium with a pint of Bud on his way to the city’s main drag.
Just several thousand England supporters made the 45-minute flight east from Moscow, to watch England dominate poor opponents. But the drubbing convinced even sceptics among them that this squad was a cut above England sides of recent past World Cups.
“I reckon we could go really far,” said Elizabeth from Brighton, who had taken a month-long holiday to follow England with her husband and young son. “It’s coming home – they’ve got me convinced,” shouted James Hall, an economics student, as he bounded down Bolshaya Pokrovskaya Ulitsa, the main pedestrian street in this city on the Volga.
In the first half, stewards formed a human chain separating England fans from each other, as though in their ecstasy they may start brawling with themselves or spontaneously combust. Meanwhile a steady drumbeat led the chant.
“Ohhh, England are in Russia. Ohhh, drinking all the vodka. Ohhh, England going all the way,” they sang, and a few fans said they really thought this could be their year.
“Five-nil at the half, you can’t ask for much more than that,” said Tony, 46, at his third World Cup. He had spent £3,000 to follow England here and then Kaliningrad on Thursday, where England take on Belgium.
“Of course Panama aren’t real competition,” he said. “We’ll see what England are really made of next week.”
The night before the match England supporters descended on a bar called Look that somehow did not exhaust its supplies of beer as a thirsty throng of mostly English men downed pints in a city once closed to all foreigners.
Russians gathered to take selfies with England flags from Sunderland and Huddersfield, but the Panamanians appeared to have the support of most Russians, dancing in a circle as someone beat out a manic rhythm on a cowbell.
They all headed right back after Sunday’s match, the Panamanians dancing and singing down the street as though they hadn’t just lost 6-1 and crashed out of the World Cup.