They’re home! Lionesses Chloe Kelly and Millie Bright cuddle their pet dogs as they are reunited with family and friends after leaving Heathrow ‘via the back door’ with young fans left ‘devastated’
- England’s Lionesses arrived in London today after losing 1-0 to Spain on Sunday
- There are calls for a homecoming parade after team reached final for first time
- FA sources say no England teams go through arrivals after a big tournament for logistical and security reasons
England’s Lionesses were reunited with their families, friends and pets today as they went straight home after controversially leaving Heathrow Airport via a private exit following nine weeks in Australia for the Women’s World Cup.
Chloe Kelly and Millie Bright both posted Instagram photos of them cuddling their dogs – hours after fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the team returning to the UK were left ‘disappointed’ when they failed to greet them in the main arrivals hall.
Rachel Daly said the team, who suffered heartbreak in the final just two days ago, now required some ‘much needed’ rest and recuperation with relatives and friends.
But the decision not to greet supporters at Heathrow, some of whom had waited overnight and now face parking fees of up £80, left younger fans close to tears.
Sarina Wiegman’s side touched down at about 6.40am amid calls for a homecoming parade after reaching the final for the first time – but fans who had gathered from 10.30pm last night were ‘devastated’ and ‘surprised’ when they failed to greet them.
Around 40 fans including children had gathered at Terminal 3 early this morning in the hope of meeting the footballers and giving them a rousing welcome home.
Following the team’s arrival after their 1-0 defeat to Spain on Sunday, Daly wrote on Instagram: ‘This one will hurt for quite some time but my overriding emotion is pride. We gave it our all. Every player and staff member in this incredible team gave it absolutely everything. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be but what a journey.
‘We didn’t get the win but being a part of this team is a win in my eyes. We continue to push boundaries, inspire our wonderful nation and next generation and ultimately; make history. What a ride it has been, nine weeks in Australia away from our loved ones and fans but we heard all of you. Thank you for the unwavering support near and far, we appreciate you all. Time for some much needed R&R with family and friends and continue to be the best we can be and strive for more. Much love.’
Kelly posted a picture with two dogs, saying: ‘Back with my boys’. And Bright, who turned 30 yesterday, posted a picture with her dog Elsa, saying: ‘Best birthday gift.’
Sources at the FA told MailOnline that neither their men’s nor women’s team go through arrivals after a big tournament – and today’s private departure was always planned for logistical and security reasons, whether they had won or lost on Sunday.
Chloe Kelly posted a picture on Instagram of her with her dogs, saying: ‘Back with my boys’
Millie Bright, who turned 30 yesterday, posted this picture on Instagram with her dog Elsa
Following their arrival, England’s Rachel Daly posted on Instagram that the team now required some ‘much needed R&R with family and friends’ after being away in Australia for nine weeks
England football fans await the arrival of the women’s team at London Heathrow Airport today
England fans Sian and Minnie, 11, from Coventry, wait at London Heathrow Airport this morning
Officials added that they had asked Heathrow yesterday to inform its staff to tell any fans arriving that the players would not be coming through the main arrivals exit.
It is not clear whether this message was relayed to any of the supporters gathered in Terminal 3 overnight, with MailOnline requesting clarification from Heathrow today.
READ MORE England’s Women’s World Cup final defeat to Spain watched by 12m people on BBC in second most-watched event of 2023 as ITV figures are dwarfed despite viewer complaints
FA sources also said there would be a chance to celebrate the Lionesses at their next home match, against Scotland at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light on September 22. It is not yet clear whether any event to commemorate their run to the final will be held before then.
At Heathrow, a boy called Mason aged ten had been waiting with an autograph book after travelling from nearby Hayes with his aunt Michelle Atkins.
Mason, who was close to tears while being interviewed, said: ‘Everyone kept saying they’re not coming out, they’re not coming out – I had belief that they were going to come out.
‘And then when we finally heard that they’re not coming out, actually confirmation, I was devastated because I wanted to see Mary (Earps) or Millie Bright because they did extremely well in the World Cup and I’m proud of them.’
Meanwhile 11-year-old Minnie from Coventry held up a homemade sign saying: ‘Lionesses! You have inspired me to play what I love! Football! All of you played amazing! Welcome home!’
Appearing later on ITV’s This Morning with her mother Sian, the duo said they had arrived at the airport at 4.30am, and felt ‘a little bit’ of disappointment.
Asked if she was ‘heartbroken’, Minnie nodded and pulled a sad face. The girl also said her favourite player was Ella Toone, adding that she came out of a football camp to do the interview.
Some fans brought flowers for Wiegman, while others held placards featuring messages saying ‘You all made us proud’ and ‘Can we have two T-shirts please?’.
Hopes were raised when former England player Alex Scott, who had been leading the BBC’s coverage, was spotted walking through arrivals. Fans said she hinted the team would follow – and the crowd burst out into chants of ‘Sweet Caroline’.
The team had flown in from Sydney Airport following their agonising 1-0 defeat against Spain
A 10-year-old boy called Mason had been waiting at Heathrow with an autograph book after travelling from nearby Hayes with his aunt Michelle Atkins and was close to tears today
Joanne Bruce, 51, of Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, said she arrived at 10.30pm last night with her niece and sister in the hope of thanking the team – and now faces a car parking ticket of £70
Lionesses fans wait for the England team to arrive at London Heathrow Airport this morning
Lisa Fountain, 42, from Wisbech, said she was ‘gutted’ not to have seen the team at Heathrow
Lionesses fans wait for the England team to arrive at London Heathrow Airport this morning
The team’s bags bearing the squad logo were also carried through, but hope turned to disappointment when it was later confirmed by airport staff that the Lionesses had left the airport and the crowd soon dispersed.
A small number of fans watched at arrivals for a little longer just to be sure they had not missed out on any action.
Pub industry seeks licensing changes after football fans are left waiting for beer
The pub industry has called for changes to licensing rules for ‘national moments’ such as Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final after many customers had to wait until the second half of the match between England and Spain to be served.
Millions of people across England went to their local pub to watch the match, with early indications suggesting trading was up by between 14 per cent and 28 per cent, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said.
However the BBPA said the increases were achieved despite pubs facing major restrictions on when they could serve alcohol at the start or even during the game, with many having to wait until the second half to be able to start serving a beer to their customers.
The organisation said it was ‘clear’ after working with the Government last week in trying to achieve a blanket order allowing pubs to serve beer and other alcoholic drinks before the match started and their prescribed licensing hours that, when Parliament was not sitting, the Licensing Act 2003 ‘is far too prescriptive in permitting urgent one-off measures to be taken’.
The BBPA said that ‘while it may not seem to be the most pressing of matters, the importance of greater legal flexibility that allows communities to come together in the nation’s pubs to celebrate key social and sporting events is vital for their long-term commercial sustainability’.
It added that it was ‘very grateful’ to the Government for its efforts to achieve a legal derogation from the Act, and for its encouragement to local authorities and police forces, many of whom themselves were supportive of their local pubs in allowing them to serve drinks earlier than their formal licensing hours.
An amendment to the Act should be quick, easy and uncontroversial to achieve, the BBPA added, as it urged the Government to table the measure.
BBPA chief executive Emma McClarkin said: ‘Despite the Lionesses not being able to claim victory on Sunday, they won the hearts of the nation and inspired the millions of people who cheered them on at the pub and elsewhere through their heroic performance in this tournament.
‘It’s great that this success was able to give a boost to our pubs after a year where they’ve faced a range of challenges from unsustainably high energy bills to double-digit duty increases.
‘Despite the Government’s valuable work encouraging local authorities to support pubs on Sunday, we now need the law to reflect the reality that strict, prescriptive licensing cannot easily flex when key events are taking place while Parliament is not sitting.
‘The Licensing Act is an important piece of legislation, but it was never intended to be so inflexible as to stand in the way of communities coming together and enjoy a beer and celebrate one-off events of national interest.
‘MPs know the pubs are the focal points of their local communities so let’s work together to get an amendment quickly agreed.’
Joanne Bruce, 51, arrived from Wisbech in Cambridgeshire at 10.30pm last night with her niece and sister in the hope of thanking the team. She said: ‘We haven’t slept, we have just laughed and joked. It was just the three of us to start with. My sister was like ‘I really want to go early’.’
When asked if any other fans were at the airport at the time, she replied: ‘No, no, no. They didn’t come until about 4am this morning. We have now got a car parking ticket of £70 to £80, maybe more. I was very, very disappointed (about the final result).
‘Seeing Millie (Bright) with tears in her eyes, it just bought tears to my eyes. I really felt for them as well. They have definitely done us proud, to get as far as they have.’
Her sister Lisa Fountain, 42, said she was ‘gutted’ not to have seen the team, but said it was ‘definitely nothing to do with them, because they are so humble’.
She added: ‘We came here to give them the hero’s welcome. OK, they came second, but just to get into the final was an absolutely amazing achievement.
‘These girls have captured the nation’s heart in so many ways and on so many levels, they have done so much for women’s sport, not just football, and we just wanted to say: ‘Look guys we are so, so proud of you as a country. We’re with you, we support you, you hurt, we hurt, we are your fans.’
‘There’s no words for what they’ve done for this country over the last year to 18 months.’
Kate Sheard, 44, a community wildlife manager who travelled from Bedfordshire to see the team, said: ‘We were excited just to see their luggage come through because we were like: ‘They’ve not left, they’re here, woo their luggage is coming through’.
‘So it kind of built that atmosphere and it was like: ‘Are they coming, are they coming, how long is it going to be?’ So it’s just a little bit disappointing that we didn’t get to show our love and support and how proud of them we are today.’
Another fan called Tara, from London, said: ‘It’s disappointing. I think we just assumed that they were going to come through. We knew that there were going to be a few fans here, we didn’t realise how many fans. But we expected them to come through, to cheer for them, to show how proud we are of them.
‘It’s a weird one. I think everyone just expected them to come out – they always normally are really good with the fans, and especially something like this. They’ve had an incredible tournament, so for them not to come out I’m pretty surprised actually.’
Mason’s aunt Ms Atkins added: ‘My sister, she wanted to be a footballer when she was little but she was laughed out of town, so it’s really nice to see that it’s making change for the young girls, and even him (Mason), he was playing in goal as Mary Earps yesterday!’
Sian Redmond, 34, travelled from Coventry in the hope of glimpsing the Lionesses. Her 11-year-old daughter Minnie had bought flowers and a pen in the hope of getting autographs from her favourite football stars.
The mother said: ‘Women’s football is definitely getting up there now, and they have definitely inspired the likes of her (Minnie). She’s been playing since she was six and the women’s football over anything has inspired her.’
Kate Daly, 52, who runs a tech-start up in South West London and arrived at around 5am, said: ‘I am so proud of the team, what they have achieved is amazing.
‘I think they have created a massive legacy for women’s football, coming off the back of the Euros, having two really big conversations about women’s football in quick succession is incredible. I want them to know that we are all absolutely proud of them.
‘It was gutting on Sunday but you can’t take away from the fact we have reached the final and that they’ve played so well, and that the team have had to cope with so many different things, it shows such strength of character, it just sets us up for so many more tournaments.
‘I think that’s the difference between the men’s and the women’s, it didn’t feel like: ‘This is our only chance.”
Airport workers move luggage as England fans await the team at Heathrow this morning
Sources at the FA told MailOnline that teams never go through arrivals after a big tournament
Around 1,000 footballs spell out ‘Proud’ on the grass of Actonians Ladies’ FC pitch in Chiswick
The ‘Proud’ tribute to the players in Chiswick is under the flight path into Heathrow
Upon their descent into Heathrow today, the players would have seen 1,000 footballs spelling out ‘Proud’ on the grass of Actonians Ladies’ FC pitch in Chiswick, which is located under the flight path.
The team had flown in from Sydney Airport following their agonising 1-0 defeat to Spain in the final on Sunday.
READ MORE Spain’s World Cup winners are welcomed home with an open-top bus parade as fans hail their heroes in Madrid… with Spanish Queen Letizia in attendance
Yesterday, fans saw off the glum-looking England players in Sydney, although on this occasion the team stopped to sign autographs and pose for pictures while dressed in their pale blue tracksuits.
The decision not to greet fans today received a mixed response on social media, with fan Jon London saying on X: ‘Disgraceful. England fans waited at Heathrow to greet Lionesses home, they had bought flags, banners, and got up stupidly early and travelled to show appreciation to their heroes. Instead, the squad slipped out via a private exit. Shame on them.’
Robert Gibbons added: ‘A bit s**te of Lionesses landing at Heathrow and using a private exit to avoid fans. Bl**** hell, it’s fans that give them support in first place.’
And Simon Hill said: ‘I find it incomprehensible that the Lionesses have been ushered through Heathrow… Have they not just promoted girls football for all, and made a World Cup final? Come on the UK Government.’
But Shanna Crossman disagreed, saying: ‘They’ve been on a plane for 24 hours. I’m sure they’re tired and they just want to go home and get some sleep. There’s a time and a place for a fan meet and greet and I’m sure it will happen in the next day or two.’
Another X user, Siobhan, added: ‘Find it mad that people are waiting at Heathrow to see the Lionesses arrive back. People waiting have been told that they’ve probably left and people are like ‘they could’ve told us’. It’s not a planned event and they probably don’t want to see people after a long flight.’
Yesterday, Alex Greenwood, who was hailed a hero for playing on with a bandage around her head after she was kneed in the face during the game, had a visible black eye as she made her way through Sydney Airport. She wrote on Instagram: ‘We will be back.’
The 29-year-old left back added: ‘This one hurts a lot and will for a while. However, I just want to say thank you to the whole team I have just spent the last nine weeks with, it was an incredible journey with amazing people, I am so proud of you all.’
The Lionesses’ next target is qualifying for the Olympics, to be held in Paris in 2024.
Defender Lucy Bronze, 31, said: ‘The Olympics is always the goal, even if we had won this tournament. The goal is always to win tournaments with this team.
‘We have shown that we can do that. We have made a final again. There is no reason why the team cannot go on and create more legacies and more winning legacies.’
It came as figures showed the match between the Lionesses and Spain, which kicked off at 11am UK time, was watched by an average of 13.3million, setting a new record for a women’s football match.
The number of viewers peaked at 14.8million in the closing minutes around 1pm as England fought to find an equalizer after going 1-0 down in Sydney, according to overnight data released by the ratings organisation Barb.
The viewing figures are the combined TV audience from kick-off to the final whistle across BBC One and ITV, both of which showed the game live.
It also includes people who watched the match on their TV set using the BBC iPlayer or ITVX, but does not include non-TV devices.
The average TV audience for Sunday’s final was more than two million higher than the previous record for a women’s football match.
This was at the Euro 2022 final at Wembley in July last year when just over 11million viewers watched the Lionesses beat Germany 2-1.
However, it was lower than England men’s 2-1 defeat to France in the 2022 World Cup quarter-final, which had an average audience of 20.4million.
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The Three Lions’ Euro 2020 final against Italy attracted an average of 29.8million viewers.
The biggest TV audience of 2023 so far was for the King’s Coronation service at Westminster Abbey on May 6, which was seen by an average of 18.8million people across 11 channels.
It is understood the Lionesses have been invited to a reception at Downing Street, with discussions ongoing between the Government and the Football Association about other ways to mark their achievements.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was among those calling for the team to be given honours, saying they had ‘galvanised the whole nation through their historic achievement’.
Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, also said ‘everyone on the team’ deserved an honour. The sentiment was echoed by fans, who called for a parade or celebration.
Asked about honours for the Lionesses yesterday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said it was for the Honours Committee to decide.
He added: ‘I think no one’s in any doubt about what an inspiration they have been, and that they’ve represented this country incredibly well.’
The Spain team already landed back in Madrid yesterday, where they paraded the trophy in front of thousands of fans.
Meanwhile Sir Geoff Hurst criticised Prince William yesterday for not attending the Lionesses’ final against Spain.
The Lionesses look tired yesterday as they arrive at Sydney Airport to head home to England
England footballer Lauren James looks downcast as she prepares to leave Sydney yesterday
Alex Greenwood leaves their Sydney hotel yesterday – seen with a black eye after being kneed in the face in the final
He spoke out following wider criticism that the lack of official support for the women’s team amounted to sexism.
READ MORE Heartbroken Lionesses wave to fans and sign autographs as they begin long journey home from Australia following Women’s World Cup final defeat by Spain
The former England star, 81, said a member of the Royal Family ‘should definitely’ have attended the World Cup final at the Stadium Australia in Sydney over the weekend.
The Prince of Wales, who is also the president of the Football Association, has faced criticism over his decision not to fly to Australia for England’s first World Cup final since 1966.
Spanish Queen Letizia and daughter Infanta Sofia were at the game.
Asked if he believed a member of the Royal Family not attending the final was a mistake, Sir Geoff told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Yes, I do.
‘I think if the royals attend the men’s game, they should definitely. It’s an English team, a world cup tournament, a member of the Royal Family should definitely have gone. No argument at all about that.’
And speaking on Good Morning Britain later he merely responded ‘Yes’ to a question asking whether Rishi Sunak and Prince William should have attended the final.
The football legend took England to victory in the 1966 World Cup with a hat-trick at Wembley Stadium. The Queen was there to hand over the cup to England captain Bobby Moore and the game was watched by the then prime minister Harold Wilson.
Prince William apologised for not attending in a video message with Princess Charlotte holding a football. He shared a second message after the game.
English players console each other after losing in the Women’s World Cup final on Sunday
Lucy Bronze slumped in England’s huddle after their 1-0 loss to Spain in the World Cup final
William said: ‘Lionesses, I want to send you a huge good luck for tomorrow. We’re sorry we can’t be there in person but we’re so proud of everything you have achieved.’
READ MORE World Cup hat-trick hero Sir Geoff Hurst blasts Prince William for snubbing Lionesses’ final as sexism row reignited over No 10’s ‘weak’ support and players getting a fifth of men’s £500k bonus if they had won
After the game, which he watched at his Norfolk home, he said: ‘Although it’s the result none of us wanted, Lionesses you have done yourselves and this nation proud.’
Palace sources cited the cost of the trip and carbon footprint as reasons for the prince not to go.
The lack of support by major figures for the women’s team has led to accusations of sexism – and the Government has been accused of not celebrating the team’s success as much as it did for the men’s Euros final in 2021.
No 10 has been accused of showing ‘weak’ support for the team, while it was reported that the Football Association had refused the players a £100,000 bonus if they had won – a fifth of the £500,000 promised to the England men if they had won the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
A few flags adorned the entrance to No 10 on Friday but it appeared a lacklustre effort compared to Boris Johnson’s decorations for the Euros in 2021. In response to criticism, the decorations were increased on Saturday.
Mandu Reid of the Women’s Equality Party, told the Mail earlier: ‘You can guarantee that there’s no way the men’s football team would be treated with such disregard and disrespect.’
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