Swarms of England and Scotland fans have descended on parts of central London in the pouring rain ahead of the teams’ clash at Wembley tonight.
Hundreds of supporters wearing their country’s shirts, flags and kilts have been chanting, singing and playing bagpipes at Leicester Square, Kings Cross and Hyde Park.
The much-anticipated match, the 115th in international football’s oldest rivalry, is the first time the two sides have met in a major tournament since Euro 96, when Paul Gascoigne’s famous goal sealed a 2-0 win.
Scotland fan Rab Foulis said supporters were “bringing a party atmosphere” to the city and “helping London’s economy”.
Speaking near Kings Cross, Mr Foulis said he had been waiting 23 years since wanting to go to the 1998 World Cup in France, where Scotland played their last major tournament but his wife did not let him.
Ecstatic that his new wife has allowed him to go to the Euros, he said: “We waited 23 years.
“Everybody’s throwing a party atmosphere. We’ve all had double vaccinations and we’re saying, you know what, why is Britain as a country still holding the economy back?
“So we’re here and we’re helping London’s economy.”
Speaking in the pouring rain, Charlotte Gammie, 27, from Dundee said: “I think we’d literally come out in the rain, snow, sleet, anything.
“I think it actually proves how much we obviously all want this and hopefully we go out and win it today.”
Another fan Mark Graham said: “It’s a pity but it looks like Scotland will make their own fan zones.
“We’ve booked a pub for last night and a pub for tonight so we’re well prepared.”
Scotland supporter Gordon Mackey, from Dunblane, said: “I’m a big fan and it’s been a long time actually, I think the last time I enjoyed this was 1990 and watched Scotland lose to Costa Rica and there was just as much excitement.
“We thought we were going to win the World Cup but today could be the same, so it’s always good to enjoy the party before.”
Wembley Stadium in north-west London will host 22,500 people for the game at 8pm on Friday.
Fans are predicted to buy 3.4 million pints during the game, while a total of 14.8 million will be sold across England and Scotland on match day, according to estimates by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA).
This comes as the Met Police’s football chief has warned fans not to travel to Wembley without a ticket.
Chief Inspector Joseph Stokoe said: “It’s a shame, it feels like there aren’t enough places for the fans to enjoy themselves, but that’s why the message has always been – if you don’t have a ticket, don’t travel.
“Enjoy the match, enjoy the event locally, in a safer event… don’t come here, because unfortunately because of what’s gone on across the world, we’ve been unable to provide the amount of fan zones you might expect in normal times.”
He said officers have been reminding fans that some Londoners are “still living under the fear of the pandemic”, adding that spreading the Met’s resources between fighting crime and policing the football is “a balancing act”.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has echoed the warning for Scottish fans to stay away from London, adding that coronavirus is not a fan of Scotland or England’s men’s football team.
She said: “I know these precautions are tiresome for everybody in every context and they’re particularly tiresome when people are trying to enjoy the normal pleasures of a football match.
“But this virus, it doesn’t care about football – it’s not a Scotland fan or an England fan, it only cares about spreading from one person to another.”
Officers arrested two men on Thursday night, including a 25-year-old for indecent exposure in Hyde Park, before later releasing him.
Another man was arrested for attempted theft of a police officer’s hat, assault with intent of avoiding arrest and assault of an emergency services worker.
He is currently being held at a south London police station.