Last night, UCFB Marketing Intern Hollie Earlam attended the England vs Czech Republic game at Wembley Stadium. Here, she shares what it was like returning to a football stadium after so long, the electric atmosphere at Wembley, and how the tournament as helped boost the nation so far…

Ten years ago, I stepped inside Wembley Stadium for the first time for the FA Cup final between Manchester City and Stoke City. Walking down Wembley Way last night intensely reminded me of that moment – the excitement, the novelty, the nerves. Having tried, and failed, to remember the last time I set foot inside a football stadium, it felt as if I were doing so for the first time. The three, middle-aged lifelong football fans who joined me said the same.

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With Saint George’s flags filling the empty seats in the stands, choruses of ‘God Save the Queen’ and of course ‘It’s Coming Home’ ringing around the stadium, there was a tangible buzz and excitement inside Wembley that sucked in anyone who walked through its golden gates. I’m embarrassed to admit I was worried the atmosphere would be somewhat anticlimactic after all the anticipation and relative lack of importance of the game, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When Raheem Sterling cleverly dinked Tomas Vaclik less than two minutes in, the game instantly drew in fans whose initial priority seemed to be soaking up the vibrant atmosphere, singing their hearts out, and drinking – in true English fashion. When Sterling scored ten minutes later, the crowd erupted around me and, just like that, it felt like we’d never been away. For all the novelty, and the tentative touch of normality, going to the game brought, it vanished the moment Sterling scored. It felt, to everyone it seemed, like any other football match, and that was reason to celebrate in itself.

The game may have slowly faded out in the latter stages, with both teams set to progress to the last 16, and Gareth Southgate’s format criticised for being too defensively-minded, but for the first half England played well. They were sharp on the ball and defensively robust, conceding only one shot on target throughout the entire game, with John Stones standing strong in the box and Harry Maguire asserting his authority upon return from injury. Playing with more confidence and flair than their uninspiring clash with Scotland last Friday, there were glimmers of the promise and potential the nation’s been fervently waiting for in this starlet-struck England side.

Bukayo Saka, the 19-year-old novice, was arguably the best player on the pitch, dancing his way through a dazed Czech Republic defense and injecting life into the game, and Jack Grealish was a reliable ally who controlled England’s attack, in what was a deserved first start of the tournament. They may not have scored a lot of goals, but last night at Wembley England played for the first time as if they could, winning their group with seven points and securing a third consecutive clean sheet at Euro 2020.

It is easy to overlook the fact they’ve topped a group with three other respectable teams, and to distract ourselves with the insignificant debate of whether a win last night was in fact advantageous, but England are performing in the one area that matters most: the result. If there was ever any doubt that this is the main criteria, the atmosphere at Wembley last night emphatically reaffirmed it – so long as Jordan Pickford kept that ball out of the net after Sterling’s glistening opener, the crowd would cheer and chant all night long. And so they did.

I hope, if it is safe to do so, that far more fans get to experience a sense of the long-overdue, greatly adored atmosphere of a football game – and a home European Championships at that. Having never been to an England match before, it’s difficult to say whether the atmosphere was that bit better, the singing that bit louder, and the celebrating that bit wilder, due to the empty stadiums we have all viewed despairingly from TV screens over the last 15 months. But it was certainly electric, somehow, at only 25% capacity. I feel so lucky to have been there.

Whatever the outcome of the last 16 tie, already shaping into a fierce clash of historic rivals, the tournament has perhaps served its most important purpose in boosting the morale of a country, and a continent, who desperately needed it. If football were to come home, though, it’s safe to say it would do so that bit more – time will tell.