'It's our year': Football fans hopeful England can end 55 years of hurt
- Credit: Emily Thomson/Ella Wilkinson
Flags are flying, the bunting is up and football fever has well and truly hit Norfolk and Waveney.
After reaching the final of a major tournament for the first time since 1966, an expectant nation is hopeful that Gareth Southgate's men can end 55 years of hurt.
With the eagerly awaited Euro 2020 final between England and Italy just hours away, dreams are closer to becoming reality.
And across the region, the countdown is on as the Three Lions bid to lift a first ever European Championship.
Norwich City fans may have been queuing up on Saturday in anticipation of the new kit launch, but attentions were also on England's white strip that looks set to be worn for the crucial final.
Among the City fans outside Carrow Road, as The Canaries officially reopened its revamped merchandise store on Saturday, Nathan Rands, 19, from Dereham, said: “I’m looking forward to it.
"I’m getting up early on Sunday, go out at 8am for some breakfast and then to the pub.
"Hopefully I will be able to remember the game.
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“I think it will be 2-1 extra time to England.”
Stephen Linstead, 57, from Hellesdon, said: “We will definitely win - two, possibly 3-0.
"The Italians looked very tired at the last game, they may push for it, but I think the way England are this year, I think it’s our year.”
Matt Wrath, 52, from Taverham said: “Nervous but also excited.
"I think we will win. I’m being positive.
"Where we live in Taverham we have a bar in the garden, and we will have a full house. That’s going to be good.
“2-1 for England and it’s definitely coming home.”
Football fans in Norwich city centre on Saturday were equally positive.
Katie Hall, manager at the Pig and Whistle pub on All Saints Green in Norwich, said: “It’s really exciting I think it will be a good atmosphere.
"I think it’s going to be as controlled as it can be.
"All the staff are excited. Everyone is happy.
"We don’t take bookings, but we have had about 50 messages asking. But its walk in only. First come first serve.
“I reckon we will win.”
Brian Terry, 70, who has travelled to England from North America to visit his son, said: “I think England will win maybe 1-0.
"I am staying in a hotel at the moment because I am here visiting my son, so I will be watching from there.
"I think it will be a great atmosphere. Being North American I’m not excited, but I am definitely interested.”
Gary Butcher, from The Ice Cream Parlour on Norwich Market, said: “I am looking forward to it because I was four years old at the World Cup Final and I remember that. I was on holiday at Pontins at Pakefield.
“I didn’t think I would ever see it in my lifetime, again.
"We have got to the final, it could go either way. I think it will be 1-0, but I am not sure which way, and we might see extra time.
“I am going to the pub - I have a table booked at 5pm at The Wig and Pen.
“I won’t be disappointed if we lose. I think just getting there is amazing. Hopefully we will all have a good day.”
Shpendi Koci, owner of Italian Street Food on Norwich Market, said: “We are not Italian, we are Albanian, but I am an Italy fan.
"I have supported them since I was a small kid and I speak Italian as well.
"The best team will win. I’m looking forward to it.
“I think it will be 2-1 to Italy."
With preparations for the final stepping up, patients at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital will be able to watch the eagerly awaited match.
A spokesman for the NNUH said: "Our patients need not miss out on watching this Sunday’s Euro 2020 final, as we've arranged for bedside TV screens to be unlocked in time for kick-off at 8pm so they can view the match free of charge!"
Well wishes have been shared across the region - from bus company BorderBus proudly displaying 'Good Luck England' messages on its fleet of BorderBus vehicles to staff and pupils at Red Oak Primary School in Lowestoft sharing video footage of them singing Sweet Caroline - the 'unofficial' anthem for England fans!
As Euro final fever intensifies, patriotic football fans have flagged up their support for England once more - in an unusual way.
In 2018, during the World Cup, a number of roundabouts across Great Yarmouth, Gorleston, Bradwell, Belton and Caister featured the cross of St George – after the nation's flag was painted onto the roundabouts during the tournament.
And now a roundabout on Fastolff Avenue, at the junction with Brasenose Avenue in Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth has been transformed - with the cross of St George.
Flags were also flying on the Mincarlo in Lowestoft, at the new Sports Bar and The Terrace area at Claremont Pier in Lowestoft and on businesses throughout the town centre.
Alan Green, Mayor of Lowestoft, said: “Having been a football fan my whole life and of that generation that witnessed the England winning in 1966, this current team surely must and will be remembered for the amazing commitment and ability whatever happens Sunday night.
"I will be cheering them from the kick off to the end, as l know will many thousands of fans from Lowestoft and beyond.
"Let's all enjoy this moment and from wherever you will be watching please stay safe.
"Come on England!”
One fervent fan from Norfolk will be savouring every minute of the historic action - live from Wembley.
Chris Smith, from Reepham, was lucky enough to win tickets for the semi-final and final in a UEFA ballot in 2019.
However, at one point it looked as if his chances of attending the final were over, after missing out in a re-ballot of ticket holders when Covid restrictions were imposed.
When capacity was increased to 60,000 as part of the road out of lockdown however, Mr Smith was lucky enough to win his ticket back and now can't wait for the match after an "incredible" atmosphere at Wednesday night's semi against Denmark.
He said: "I was very fortunate to get the tickets back, because obviously England in a major final is a once in a lifetime experience.
"I used to be an England member, but I've been to previous European Championships in the past where I've applied through UEFA.
"I went to a game in the last championships but that wasn't an England game, that was just a group game between Switzerland and Albania.
"I'd applied for all sorts of group games this year, but fortunately for me the only tickets I could get were for the semi-final and final.
"It was absolutely incredible at the semi-final, it was absolutely amazing, everybody was so excited.
"After the year we've had, to see how much football means to everybody is great.
"The final is certainly going to be a tough game, Italy are an extremely strong side, which they've proved since the beginning of this championships.
"It's going to be extremely tight, but I think we're all hopeful England can do it in 90 minutes.
"I went with my work colleague on Wednesday, but for the final I'm going with my wife and son, so he's obviously incredibly excited.
"It would be absolutely amazing if England won it, fingers crossed."