HOTSHOT Raheem Sterling got England off to a winning start at the Euros yesterday — scoring a goal just a stone’s throw from where he grew up.
The Manchester City star gave “football’s coming home” a meaning of his own as he netted at Wembley — the area where he was raised.
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Raheem, who was awarded the MBE two days earlier for services to racial equality in sport, was the only scorer as England beat Croatia 1-0 in front of thrilled fans.
It was the Three Lions’ first opening game triumph in a Euro tournament in 53 years and sent them roaring into Friday’s crunch clash with Scotland.
Raheem, 26, lived in Neeld Crescent in the shadow of the stadium in the North West London borough of Brent.
As a kid he dreamed of football glory as he gazed up at its iconic arch being built.
Before yesterday’s match he posted a picture of himself as a boy clutching a trophy with the words: “Never forget where it started. #boyfromBrent.”
England’s glory overshadowed a moment of controversy before kick-off when their players took the knee in an anti-racism gesture.
Some fans booed but they were drowned out by massive cheers for Gareth Southgate’s team.
Last night Raheem said: “It’s a great feeling for me playing at Wembley, not far from where I grew up as a young boy and seeing the stadium being built.
“I’ve always said, if I played at Wembley in a major tournament I’m scoring at Wembley, in my back garden. I said I have to score — and it's great to finally do that.”
A noisy Covid-reduced 22,500- strong crowd watched the tight match in blistering 30C heat.
I’ve always said, if I played at Wembley in a major tournament I’m scoring at Wembley, in my back garden.Raheem Sterling
They — and millions watching on TV — erupted in celebration early in the second half when Leeds midfielder Kalvin Phillips sent an inch- perfect pass through for Sterling to blast home.
Some people had queued outside pubs and restaurants from 7am to bag their spots for the 2pm kick-off — with table service still in force.
Harry Leach, who waited outside The Distillery, in Birmingham, said:: “When I started queuing there were already 120 people in front of me and I would say about 120 behind.
“Everyone was excited, they were all singing England chants.”
Millions of others gathered in homes, gardens and fan zones.
Huge screens were put up in Trafalgar Square.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who was hosting key workers as a “thank you”, said the excitement of the Euros was needed after “the darkness and trauma” of the pandemic.
James Wright, 43, of Great Cornard, Suffolk, who was at Wembley, said: “The atmosphere was electric. When that goal went in you would have had no idea Wembley was three quarters empty and full of fans in masks. It was deafening.”
Boris Johnson, at a press conference at the end of the G7 summit in Cornwall, sidestepped calls to condemn fans who booed. He said: “Everybody should cheer for England”.
The PM tweeted congratulations on the team’s “fantastic start”.
England boss Southgate said: “It's lovely to have given our fans and our country a really enjoyable afternoon.”
Skipper Harry Kane said: “Massive performance to start the Euros with a win in the sun at Wembley. Raheem Sterling on fire — perfect.”
The result was payback after Croatia beat England in the World Cup semi-final in 2018.
Richard Wilson, 60, watching in Teddington, West London, said: “What a start — just what the country needs.”