IT ALL ended in tears for England fans when their World Cup dreams died this morning as droves of grown men could be seen weeping at the haunting sound of the final whistle.
For the thousands who made their way to Sydney’s Star Casino, it was a torturous night of mixed emotions, from exhilaration and jubilation to exhaustion and anger.
Some consoled themselves with a drink, but at least a dozen took it too far and could be seen being thrown out by police officers and security guards who maintained a strong presence throughout the rollercoaster morning.
In one surreal moment, cops and sharply-dressed bouncers could be seen sprinting across the casino floor to catch an overexcited football fan, as bleary-eyed punters watched on.
They walked back moments later through the bright lights and jingling tunes of the pokies with the fan in handcuffs and threw him out along with several others.
There were moments of unbelievable tension at the casino’s 24/7 sports bar during the knife-edge game which was only decided in extra time. England fans easily outnumbered those supporting Croatia, however the banter between fans was overwhelmingly good-natured.
“Football wasn’t made in Croatia!” yelled one Englishman at a crowd of Croatians jumping up and down with flags and painted-faces shortly after the final whistle — they didn’t seem to care much at that point.
However, security guards and police officers made a guard in front of the singing fans of the victorious side, as England fans, many of them in tears, slowly filtered out at the end of the game.
NSW Police told news.com.au one person had been arrested for alleged common assault, but officers at the scene said the vast majority of England and Croatia supporters were “very well behaved and moved on without incident”.
However, some fans were unhappy about not being able to get a spot in the overcrowded sports bar — some having arrived hours before the game only to find it was full.
A massive queue to the bar snaked all the way to the entrance of the casino before kick-off and staff were asking fans to relocate to other parts of the casino to watch the game on smaller screens.
“It looks like you would have had to have been here all night if you wanted to be in the sports bar,” said England fan Danny Lorraine.
“We’ve been here for about an hour and the queue has barely moved. It looks like the bar’s full and they’re not letting anyone else in,” he added about 20 minutes before the game started.
However, overflowing fans spilt out all over the casino and wherever you went you could hear boisterous England supporters repeatedly chanting “it’s coming home” as well as a hilarious chant about their manager Gareth Southgate to the tune of Atomic Kitten’s 2001 hit Whole Again.
“Looking back on when we first met,” they yelled. “I cannot escape and I cannot forget. Southgate, you’re the one. You still turn me on and football’s coming home again.”
This vibrant atmosphere quickly changed when Croatia made their dominance pay off with a goal in the second half.
Dejected fans started yelling at the screen during England’s woeful second half performance, in which Southgate’s boys couldn’t seem to string a basic pass together for love nor money.
When the inevitable and unbearable period of extra-time came, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife despite the bright, jangling tunes of the pokies ringing in the background.
In the end, it was all too much for England and they lost to a team which had more chances and better control of the ball.
As the winning goalscorer, Mario Mandzukic, lay on the floor for vast periods of the second half of extra time, angry England fans whistled and screamed at the televisions that surrounded them.
Finally there was one final free-kick from a handball in Croatia’s half in the final minute of the game. Even then, you could feel the belief from England fans was still there.
However, it wasn’t to be and you know what that means — football isn’t coming home and won’t be for at least another two years.