After 55 years of hurt, tears and misery, finally some joy. Make that a lot of joy.

England made history – and created mass hysteria in the process – by finally beating Germany in the knockout stage of a tournament for the first time since that final in 1966.

In doing so, Gareth Southgate, the manager, cast off his own demons, having lost a semi-final to the Germans in 1996 after missing a penalty. 

Southgate, ever the wise manager, knew what this meant, not just for him but for the nation.

"I just thought it was a brilliant afternoon. We thought about bringing joy to the nation and that is what this afternoon was about,” he said afterwards. “For the team-mates I played with [in 1996] I can’t change that and that is always going to hurt, but today we have given the fans a day to remember." 

The players understood the history but also recognised the turmoil caused by the pandemic.

"It’s been a tough couple of years for the country so to put smiles back on the faces of people in the stadium and around the country is great,” said Harry Maguire, the stalwart of the defence.

This was the afternoon many millions of England fans had hoped and prayed for but never seen.

Not just the sheer exhilaration of watching England actually beat the old enemy, but watching grown Germans cry.

Now England march on to a quarter-final on Saturday night in Rome.

Ecstacy for these England fans …

Credit: Nick Potts/PA

… and agony for Antonio Rudiger, as he reacts to Germany's defeat at Wembley

Credit: Justin Tallis/AFP

What they won’t have is 45,000 screaming fans, allowed into Wembley as part of the Government’s mass experiment on reintroducing spectators to stadia.

Life is returning to normal even if this result was anything but.

As the goals went in and after the final whistle, the nation erupted.

"What a night, what a time to be alive," declared Gary Lineker (who had lost to Germany on penalties in 1990)  to an audience of millions watching on the BBC, adding: "You have got to be as old as I am to remember the last time England beat Germany in a tournament."

Sir Geoff Hurst, who wasn’t just there in ‘66 but won the World Cup for England, declared on Twitter: "Thrilled to bits." 

Thrilled to bits @England #EnglandvGermany

— Sir Geoff Hurst (@TheGeoffHurst) June 29, 2021

That felt like an understatement for anyone under the age of 55.

The victory was witnessed by the Duke of Cambridge, celebrating along with the crowd from his vantage point in the Royal Box.

Beside him stood his eldest child Prince George, watching his first England football game, looking slightly bemused and wondering what the fuss was about.

Ditto the Duchess of Cambridge, also attending her first England game in a lucky red blazer.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George celebrate Raheem Sterling's goal at Wembley

Credit: Christian Charisius/DPA

At kick-off as the national anthem rang out, fans finally able to belt it out after 15 months of near silent arenas, Prince George, aged seven, stayed shtum.

On Twitter, onlookers thought it highly amusing:  "Absolutely love how Prince George, who is literally related to the woman the song is about, couldn’t care less to sing the national anthem."

Nevertheless by hook and crook, the Football Association will need to get their lucky Royal mascots to Italy for the quarter-final.

On the final whistle, Prince William, the FA’s President, jumped to his feet, in unison with those behind him, among them Davids Beckham and Seaman, both of them former England footballers. Seaman had been a team-mate of Southgate’s in the Euro 96 defeat.

The game had been cagey for 75 minutes although England always had the better of it.

And then Raheem Sterling did what no other England player had done in the Euros. He scored. Again.

Total mayhem

His third goal of the tournament (and at that point nobody else had scored for England) caused mayhem.

"Doing it for your country is always going to be special and that was a special moment," said Sterling, who grew up in the shadow of Wembley stadium. 

It was all too much for some. "I had to use my inhaler as I ran out of breath," screamed Jay Gittelmon, 20, from north-west London as the Sterling goal went in.  "I’ve never felt anything like that, it’s the best moment of my life."

In the fans’ zone reserved for NHS workers in Trafalgar Square, the misery of the past 15 months gave way to ecstasy in the course of 11 minutes following the goal by Sterling and the second by Harry Kane, the captain who had his doubters going into the match. 

Sue Bedding, 59, an NHS worker from Nottingham, who had travelled down to London to watch the game with her son, said: "I’m made up, it’s been an absolutely brilliant night. I remember the ’96 match and I was completely gutted when we lost."

Matt Champion, an IT worker from Bristol celebrating his 32nd birthday, broke open a Cuban cigar, declaring: "It’s unbelievable, I never saw this coming. This is the best birthday party I could have ever organised."

History in the making

As they poured out of Wembley, spectators knew they had seen history.

Sarah Ross, a nurse, said the win had made up for a holiday to the Maldives that couldn’t now happen.

"It has been good to come here and enjoy this and escape all of it," she said.

Ever the England fan, she is fearful of complacency with the toughest team in England’s half of the draw now disposed of. 

In fan zones, pubs and bars across the country, the celebrations – despite Covid-19 – were anything but social distanced.

The rules are due to be scrapped on July 19 but vanished ahead of time on Tuesday, as supporters hugged and kissed their way through two goals and a final whistle. 

Before the game Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, had called for workers to be allowed to finish early in order to watch the game with its 5pm kick-off.

Anybody working from home had given up the pretence of actually doing the day job.

Well done @England!

We’re all behind you – bring it home! pic.twitter.com/7rPnp0xrKu

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) June 29, 2021

In Downing Street, Boris Johnson perched awkwardly on a table watching the game with Carrie Johnson, his new bride, in a photograph posted on social media.

At the final whistle he tweeted: "Well done England! "We’re all behind you – bring it home!"

At Wimbledon, some spectators dared to watch the game on their mobile phones as Roger Federer, aged 39, won his first round match. "It’s coming home," cried a loan voice on Centre Court, after Kane scored his goal to seal the win.

Not everybody in England was sharing in the mass ecstasy. Bear a thought for the Germans living in this country who had gathered at the Octoberfest pub in West London.

"Bad is an understatement," said Isabel, who wore a German kit, tears in her eyes. "It feels difficult", sighed Dirk, 41.

On social media, the gags at their expense began to circulate, one showing an empty plane with German towels on aircraft seats accompanied by the caption: "They’re going home."

The Germans have now departed Euro 2020.

Harry Kane, the England captain, celebrates the historic win with Declan Rice, Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish

Credit: Andy Rain/Shutterstock

England’s victorious team just needs to keep winning for three games more.

With Southgate at the helm, this might just be the year when all the ghosts of football misery past are finally laid to rest. Just maybe.