Last night, UCFB Marketing Intern Hollie Earlam attended the England vs Denmark European Championships semi-final at Wembley Stadium. Here, she shares what it was like returning to a football stadium with 60,000 people, the electric atmosphere at Wembley, and how it felt to see the Three Lions reach a major final for the first time in 55 years…

At the end of every live football match, I stand tentatively at the exit doors until the final whistle then sprint to the train in a desperate, often unsuccessful, scramble to escape the sea of fans pouring out the stadium. But last night, as England qualified for a European Championship final for the first time in history, it seemed worth hanging around a bit longer for.

 It was astonishing to see the vast majority of fans remain in the stadium long after the game had ended, soaking up a spine-tingling atmosphere and celebrating not just the result, but what it symbolised to be surrounded by sweaty strangers in a shockingly normal setting once more.

 The wall of noise inside the stadium didn’t need any incentive but the occasion itself, yet England’s emphatic start lifted the roar of the crowd somehow. I had to constantly remind myself to watch the players on the pitch rather than the mass of supporters screaming in their direction. As Raheem Sterling skipped through Denmark’s dazed defence and 19-year-old Bukayo Saka proved unphased by both occasion and opponent, Wembley felt set for a showdown – and one with England’s name on it.

But when Mikkel Damsgaard’s curling free-kick brushed past Jordan Pickford’s hand and into the net, the wave of noise was swiftly washed away. I wondered whether this would be a painful repeat of the semi-final against Croatia three years ago; England with the edge before kick-off but without the nerve to cope with the unimaginable weight of expectation.

But Gareth Southgate’s team remained calm and composed, despite going behind for the first time in the tournament. They battled back with grit as well as glamour, with urgency but without panic, unveiling a maturity far beyond their years. It felt as though a goal was coming, but when Simon Kjaer turned Saka’s cross into his own net Wembley erupted as I’ve never seen it before. It’s difficult to put into words. It was completely forgotten that they had only equalised and there remained 51 minutes of normal time to play. None of that mattered – England had scored in a Euros semi-final on home soil.

Half-time, rather than a chance to refresh and recuperate, was seen by the crowd as a quick 15-minute party, embracing their return to stadiums with every England song imaginable, old and new, savouring every moment of this long overdue footballing fiasco. It felt as if we were witnessing something special, even before we knew the result.

When play resumed, a magnificent Harry Maguire header led the entire stadium to believe that England were about to edge in front, only to be met by an equally magnificent save from Kasper Schmeichel. They continued to press and dominate, but as the 90 minute mark doomed ominously overhead, both sides seemed fearful of late, irreparable heartbreak – for which you can hardly blame them.

As the final whistle was blown, I couldn’t help but think ahead to the possibility of penalties, the agonizing walk – and watch – of the next chapter in England’s tumultuous relationship with spot kicks. Perhaps the players feared it just as much as the fans, for when they returned at the start of extra-time they appeared to be a different team altogether. Men on a mission.

Fearless, full of flare and with character on the ball, they played with the confidence of a set of players who could go on to win the tournament. It seemed inevitable that Denmark couldn’t sustain this level of pressure for 30 minutes – although you never quite know with football – and when Sterling was fouled in the box, we knew this was the chance, the penalty to prevent penalties.

As for the kick itself, the video below says it all – I’m not sure how better to convey the moment. A frantic blur of despair and then overwhelming happiness in a matter of moments and a reminder of football’s incredible ability to toy with our emotions. The crowd reaction is still echoing in my head as I’m writing.

From the moment Kane slotted away the rebound, second time lucky, there was no doubt in my mind – or anyone else’s it seemed – that they would go on to win. England looked more likely to score another in the second half of additional time than Denmark did to equalise, and their ability to effortlessly keep hold of the ball showed a sexiness and a swankiness that proved they too believe they can compete with the very best. And so they will on Sunday.

Maybe I’m still lost in the ecstatic frenzy of last night, but somehow, I don’t feel England’s success in this tournament is all that dependent on the result in three days’ time. It’s a 90-minute lottery between two masterful teams with extraordinary managers and individual players who can win it with one killer touch – that shouldn’t define an entire team or tournament.

What we know, and what will stand regardless, is that this is a hard-working, knee-taking, rainbow-wearing, youth-inspiring team that showcase England at its very finest. They’ve provided a lifeline for many in the darker days of the pandemic, be it for club or country, and now represent the light at the end of the tunnel as life gradually returns to normal. This is what matters most and what will live on.

But that being said, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t already nervous for the game on Sunday. Gareth Southgate – the whole of England is with you.