Even divine inspiration from above was not enough for footy fans who packed into a church hall last night (SUN) to watch England lose 4-2 on penalties to Italy in their nail-biting Euro 2012 quarter final match.
There were gasps of joy then anguish from the 100 supporters as first Ashley Young and then Ashley Cole missed from the spot as the normal Sunday service took on a whole new meaning with churchgoers watching the game on a giant screen at Leigh Road Baptist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex.
When former West Ham player Diamante sealed the win it was down-faces all round.
Patriotic flags had adorned the church as it was transformed on the holy day into a sanctuary for the cross of St George. It was the fourth time that England games have been screened there during the tournament.
Barbecues, drinks and cupcakes have all been provided free of charge to fans of all ages as they watched Gerrard and co.
Minister Rev Steven Hembery , 61, who supports Ipswich Town, said: “It was a really tense game and it could have gone one way or the other. “But it’s always heartbreaking to lose on penalties. But I suppose we should be used to it now.”
He added: “We have just had a new hall built and extra facilities which we always promised would be used for the community. “The games screened at the church have been really well attended. “It has been a good atmosphere but also a safe one where parents can bring their children and watch the game with pals. “Lads from our football team have come along too with their partners and fans of all ages have been packing out the pews.”
Churchgoer Alan Cook, 44, is one of those who has watched all the England games at Leigh Road. Father-of-four Alan, from Leigh-on-Sea, said: “The Italians deserved the win overall – but I still feel gutted. “We don’t have a TV licence so it has been a real Godsend to be able to watch the games here on the giant screen. “Two of my boys – Luke and Matthew – are real footy fans and have enjoyed being able to see their heroes in a safe and happy atmosphere.”
Seven-year-old England fan Enrico Lo Turco – who is half-Italian – added: “I’m supporting England because they are my favourites but will cheer for Italy when they play Germany.
“I was cheering for Rooney throughout the match but am really upset we have lost. But at least I got to stay out late!”
Before each game, fans had taken part in a soccer stats competition where they predict the scorers, the number of shots, the score and fouls committed. At the end of the 90mins a winner is announced.
Jonathan and Heather Pickford, church member and one of the event organisers at Leigh Road Baptist, said: “Each game the screen has got bigger. We started off in an upstairs room for the France game, moved to one of our halls for the Sweden game and held the Ukraine screening in the church itself!
“A lot of people at the church love football as well as God. So it has been the perfect combination. “The cross of St George fits perfectly with the surroundings of the church.”
The church also showed the Euro Cup final, which was well attended – despite England being out.
Words by Steve Klein. Photos kindly provided by John Mclellan.