Until basically the beginning of this World Cup, women's football has been largely overlooked in the UK. But in the States, where their national side have dominated basically forever, they have a large and loyal following – so much so that, last night, a Canadian bar in central London was as rammed as any pub during the men's World Cup, with USA fans cheering on their team in the semi-final against England.
With an hour until kick off, IPAs were faintly thumping against placemats to the beat of what I was told was "country rock music". You could hear an Atlantic twang in the air. "Nikita Parris is so good, England might have a chance," a fan shouted to her friend. A group of English fans heard this and looked down at their replica shirts – their nerves turning to hope.
Everyone stood as the anthems were sung. Well, all the Americans stood and sung, while proudly holding their clenched fists to their USA, LA Galaxy and Ralph Lauren badges. The English listened as our national anthem was fed out of the speakers. National respect paid, LA Galaxy fan Joey kicked up tentative predictions of a "3-2, or hopefully 3-1, win to us".
After USA winger Christen Press scored in the 10th minute with a rocket header from a rapid cross, the commentary was drowned out with chants of "YOUUUU ESSS AYYY!"
But then all the noise stopped. England's Ellen White got her foot on the end of a cross and knocked it majestically into the net. The half dozen openly English fans cheered so faintly that sounded like someone accidentally playing music on the tube before their airpods have connected. It was neck and neck, and the low, oaky bar was fucking warm. Nobody was speaking; there were still 71 minutes left to play.
Lauren had never been so cynical in her life: she told me she'd just leave if England scored next. But they didn't. Instead, the USA scored an outrageous goal: the ball floated exactly where it needed to for another wonderful header. Lauren was still too cynical to call the final score, but said she was going to stay. "Now it feels good. Come on, girls!"
A GOAL FOR ENGLAND. ELLEN WHITE, AGAIN.
The closet English fans went fucking nuts, along with a few Canadians. "Soccer's coming home!" a Canadian man chanted, before realising his mistake and correcting it to "football". But England's joy was short-lived – White was offside. Absolute bedlam. "Thank you, God, for VAR," Sarah – a Texan on holiday – shouted, before almost crying into her glass.
And then VAR, or God, turned against them. A penalty review that took an eternity – so long that people retreated to the bar.
England got the penalty. England missed the penalty. The room was melting. A guy in a Canadian shirt was pressing a pint of water against his forehead while his mouth hung open in dismay. Next to him, the praying Texan knocked back an entire glass of prosecco without looking away from the screen.
And then, a red card; and then America in possession; and then the whistle went on the dot of the "SEVEN FRICKING EXTRA MINUTES". American jubilation. The English vacated sadly and quietly.
Lauren and Sarah both high-fived and said they were "so proud of their fantastic national team". Later, Lauren was struggling with mixed feelings. "This should have been the final," she told me as she finished her cider. "It felt like a final. England have really made women's football a thing this time."