Euro 2020 will draw to a close on Sunday with England's football team hoping to deliver a historic tournament win to fans on Wembley Stadium's famous pitch.
With millions expected to watch at home and in bars, victory over Italy would deliver a huge economic and emotional lift for the lockdown-weary nation which has been badly hit by the coronavirus crisis.
Some economists believe England's passage to the final may generate a £1bn financial boost to businesses through spending in restaurants, shops and online.
The social and financial impact could surpass that of the 2012 Olympic Games, which helped erase the trauma of the London riots of the previous summer and restored the capital's diverse and progressive image.
John Williams, associate professor of sociology at Leicester University, said winning Euro 2020 would be an even bigger milestone than the 2012 Games and would mark a “joyous end of some hard times".
“There was a 'feel good' associated with the 2012 Olympics, but I think it was short-lived and more strongly focused on London and the south-east”, he told The National.
“I think this will be bigger if England win on Sunday, because football is more widely followed, especially by working people in urban centres. And I think it is being associated with coming out of the pandemic because of the lack of social distancing, crowds, singing and celebrations.”
Mr Williams said an England win was also likely to boost the team's popularity among ethnic minorities, who have previously felt distant from the team, which has at times been associated with hooliganism and overt xenophobia.
England's sole football tournament win came in 1966, when an all-white squad lifted the Jules Rimet trophy on Wembley turf. More than five decades on and the team, like the country, is much more multicultural.
Many of the England starting XI are from immigrant backgrounds: captain Harry Kane's father is Irish; Marcus Rashford's mother is from Saint Kitts; Raheem Sterling was born in Jamaica; Buyako Saka is a Londoner with Nigerian parents; and Jadon Sancho's parents come from Trinidad & Tobago.
“The diversity of this team I think will have some impact on multicultural centres in the way that did not happen in 1966, or in 1990 or 1996", Mr Williams said referring to the semi-finals the team reached at the World Cup in Italy and the European Championships in England.
At the start of the tournament, a section of England supporters booed the taking of the knee, a gesture marking solidarity with Black Lives Matter, but viewed as 'Marxist' by some fans and right-wing commentators. Home Secretary Priti Patel was criticised in some quarters for refusing to criticise those booing their own players.
Experts says ethnic minorities are now more likely to adopt an English identity — as opposed to a wider Britishness — thanks to the sporting success of England's rugby, cricket and football teams.
Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think tank, said the final would be the “biggest shared moment in England so far this year”, with only the royals and the NHS having similar power to unify the nation.
“With the energy now gone from early controversies about ‘taking the knee’, the whole of England is behind this young, exciting and diverse group of players,” he said.
“Our research finds that the England team is the symbol of English identity that feels equally owned and shared by people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds, bridging divides by place and by politics.”
It's not just about heritage but social background.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, said: “England’s team is a diverse team of all the talents in more ways than one. This is the case whether you look at where the players are born or their school background.
“For example six out of 11 of England’s starting line-up hail from the north, with five from the south. In 2014 Frank Lampard was the sole southerner in the starting 11 for the World Cup and Sterling was the only player in the 23-man squad to have attended a London school.
“England’s footballers are also representative of the nation in terms of education backgrounds. The starting 11 are all from state schools, like 93 per cent of the population. This contrasts with our national cricket and rugby teams.”
On Friday, the English public were given another reason to be cheerful after news reports suggested Prime Minister Boris Johnson would declare an extra bank holiday if England won the final. And some schools have promised a late start on Monday morning to allow pupils to stay up late to watch the match.
“This is a really strong generation of players”, said former England player Jamie Rednapp, who reached the Euros semi-final in 1996. “It's brought everybody together and made us realise how much we love football and live sports events".
Even Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has been buoyant, expecting a further boost to consumer confidence from England’s semi-final win over Denmark.
“Whether there is a bit of extra GDP at the end of it, so be it. That will be great. But I will take the win over that, any day.”
Mr Sunak tweeted: “There’s only one Sterling I’m gonna be cheering for on Sunday.”
Economic impact of the final
Britain suffered its worst recession in more than 300 years last year, with many sectors, particularly in the services industry, completely shut down at the height of the crisis.
While the Centre for Economics and Business Research said it expected the championship to release an estimated £143 million through spending in restaurants, ticket sales and stadium snacks, that figure was suggested in June, before England had reached the final.
Now economists have raised their expectations, with Stuart Cole, chief macroeconomist at brokerage Equiti Capital, saying England’s place in the final could top the £1bn generated when the team got through to the semi-finals at the 2018 World Cup.
“With the UK public very much in the mood to use any excuse to cast off the inhibitions imposed by the pandemic lockdowns, my hunch is that this tournament may well exceed that £1bn figure.”
Mr Cole expects the hospitality sector to be the real winner from England’s football success, as pubs and restaurants look to capture the positive mood the tournament is generating and encourage spending not only on Sunday, but also in the run-up to the final.
A boost to sales of England-related merchandise is also on the cards, Mr Cole said, “extending the benefit to clothing stores”.
“More generally, whenever you get an episode of this ‘feel-good’ factor in the national psyche, it tends to spill over into spending”, he said.
Kunal Sawhney, chief executive of Kalkine group, an independent equity research and media company, said the UK economy will gain from higher consumer spending if England breaks its 55-year deadlock to win a major tournament.
With the government preparing to withdraw all Covid restrictions on July 19, an England win in the final will quickly be followed by the English Premier League season kicking off on August 13.
“Not only will businesses thrive, but heightened spending activity after a months-long disruption can naturally stimulate the sectors alongside, supporting thousands of jobs across the widespread geography of England”, Mr Sawhney, told The National.
However, Mr Cole warned economic boosts from big wins at major tournaments “do not last long”.
“Once the tournament is over, typically consumer behaviour resorts to type. Overall, we can probably expect to see a boost to the retail sales figures covering this period, but thereafter it will probably just as quickly disappear again,” he said.
Another potential dampener to the economic benefit of the tournament is the Covid-19 pandemic. While some restrictions have eased in the UK, social distancing is still a requirement.
The rules limited the number of people able to attend the game at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday night, and the numbers able to pack into venues to watch the match, which will be the same for Sunday’s final.
This not only slows down spending on food and drink, it also prevents an influx of tourists coming over to watch the games that you would normally expect at a major tournament.
Up to 1,000 Italy fans will be allowed to travel to London for Sunday’s Euro 2020 final under strict conditions, including a five-day quarantine on their return, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) said earlier this week.
European football’s governing body UEFA has agreed with British authorities to allow the supporters to fly from Italy and attend the game at Wembley Stadium.
They can only be on British soil for up to 12 hours, must return negative tests before they arrive and have to stay in a secure bubble by using charter flights and dedicated transport to get to and from the airport and the stadium at a cost of €610 ($721) per person.
Mr Cole said it is also harder to strip out the economic impact of the tournament against the wider impact the relaxing of lockdown restrictions is having.
“With lockdown reportedly having seen more individuals opening up personal share dealing accounts etc., maybe we could see a modest boost to the FTSE on Monday morning if England win”, he said.
However, with travel restrictions easing for amber list countries on Thursday, the travel sector finally flew into brighter skies, with double vaccinated UK travellers able to return from countries graded as amber on the UK travel list, without needing to quarantine.
While this was a boost for travel stocks, it does not solve the issue of inbound tourism.
With fast economic indicators such as card spending data suggesting that the spending momentum seen in April in the UK as restrictions eased may have begun to slow slightly during the second half of May, the Euros will be key to re-energising the economy again.
“Spending during the Euros alone won’t be enough to cement an economic recovery”, said Toby Sims, of Fidelity Personal Investing.
However, the tournament has concentrated spending into some of those sectors worst affected by the pandemic, such as hospitality.
And with many Britons expected to stock up on food and drink for at-home parties to watch the final, a successful outcome “could lift consumers’ moods and contribute to a broader recovery of spirits,” said Mr Sims.