The entire nation is gearing up for the Euro 2020 final at 8pm on Sunday, when England will take on Italy in what is sure to be a nail-biting battle for the trophy that has eluded the team since the tournament began. But while millions are frantically making last-minute bookings or organising viewing parties in anticipation, some people have found the finals falling on one of the most important days of their lives – their wedding day.
It comes after an estimated 320,000 weddings were postponed since March 2020, countless changes to rules around guest numbers, face masks, social distancing, and even dancing. The wedding industry, worth nearly £15bn a year pre-pandemic, was brought to its knees. Weddings are hugely significant days as it stands, a commitment couples make to each other for all their loved ones to see. But when holy matrimony clashes with the first time in 55 years England made it to a final of a major tournament? It becomes, in one groom’s words, “immense”.
For John Clarke, 42, it was unimaginable that his marriage to his fiancee Helen Clarke would coincide with such a momentous period in England’s football history. Not only was their wedding rehearsal scheduled on the same day as the semi-finals, in which the England team secured their place in the finals against Italy – but their wedding day will fall on the same day as well.
John, from Worksop in Nottinghamshire, tells The Independent that he didn’t believe it when his brother-in-law told him two weeks before the tournament started that his wedding would be taking place during the Euro 2020 finals.
“We absolutely did not think about it or even know until he contacted me,” he said. “And then this week, when we realised England was going to the finals, it was just bonkers. Everybody went bonkers.”
Some might have been put off by this clash of momentous events. But tying the knot on the same day as the Euro finals is a perfect marriage of John’s best interests: a celebration of his relationship with his fiancee Helen Clarke and his nearly 40-year passion for football.
The couple will be married in a church ceremony on Sunday afternoon and then will head to the Van Dyk Hotel six miles away from Worksop for the reception. Helen, 40, who is normally not a football fan, rang the hotel following the semi-finals on Wednesday to ask if there would be a television available to screen the match.
“Helen is a big tennis fan and usually she doesn’t bother watching the football, but even she’s really gotten into the spirit of things now,” said John.“She’s watched almost every single game, it’s become a joke among the wedding guests that she’ll now have to watch the final too.”
The hotel was able to sort out a room with a television for the couple and their guests to watch the game during their reception. John said that coincidentally, the name of the room is “Southgate”, which he was extremely happy about as he holds the England team manager in high regard.
“[Southgate] has really surprised me, he’s not been influenced by anyone else and has done his own thing, made sure the team is a real team,” said John. “You can see what a great team they are and every decision he makes is for the team, not for anything else.”
John and Helen met in February 2020 and became engaged in October. Unlike so many couples over the last year, they haven’t had to postpone their wedding date due to the pandemic – however, they will still have to adhere to coronavirus restrictions imposed on wedding venues, which John says is “frustrating”.
Although the cap on guest numbers for weddings was lifted from 21 June, restrictions around social distancing and mask-wearing remain. Wedding venues must carry out risk assessments and determine how many guests they can accommodate with social distancing measures in place.
All the fans going to the stadium to watch the game will be able to stand and shout and cheer the team on, but because we’re having a wedding, we’re supposed to sit down and wear masks the whole time
Attendees and staff are required by law to wear face masks at the ceremony and reception. Venues are also required to provide table service where alcohol is served and ensure guests eat and drink while seated.
In contrast, around 60,000 fans are expected to pack into Wembley stadium on Sunday, with no restrictions on how much singing, chanting, shouting or dancing they can do.
“All the fans going to the stadium to watch the game will be able to stand and shout and cheer the team on, but because we’re having a wedding, we’re supposed to sit down and wear masks the whole time,” he said.
“It is frustrating, particularly on the wedding side of things… But I’m still glad we’re going to be able to watch it. Some of our guests are planning to bring England flags and will dress the tables and change into their jerseys during the match.
“Lots of people who aren’t even into football are embracing it, like Helen and my mother-in-law. I think the country needs it, it needs a boost, and this is the most ideal time. It’s something to celebrate and look forward to after the last 18 months of constant doom and gloom.”
When we realised England was going to the finals, it was just bonkers. Everybody went bonkers
There’s no question of what the root of the “doom and gloom” has been. The coronavirus pandemic cast a dark shadow over the entire globe since it arrived into the world at the start of 2020. Unfortunately for John’s family, his mother fell victim to the virus last May.
Now, he says both his wedding and the Euro 2020 final are much-needed events to lift his family’s spirits, especially his father. Both his parents caught the virus and were hospitalised around the same time, but his mother did not survive.
“My dad’s a huge football fan as well. Mum died of Covid last year, so he really needs the boost,” John said. “When they were both in hospital, it was looking at one point like we would lose them both.”
Amid all the excitement about the game, there was a moment when Helen wondered if John was using the tournament to forget about the wedding. However, he reassured her that he had only been using it to “get away from the nerves”.
“I get nervous being the centre of attention, I know everyone’s going to be watching Helen and me and that’s quite nerve-wrecking,” he said. “Helen thought I was using the football to forget all about the wedding but that wasn’t it at all.
“She’s gone to pick up her dress today and get her nails done and everything, so it’s all starting to feel very real. I’m very nervous, but also really looking forward to the wedding day, it’ll be memorable in more ways than one.”
Whichever way the match goes, John and Helen’s wedding is sure to become one for the books. If England wins, John said it would be “immense”. “I’ve never experienced England being in the final… It’s a hopeful feeling,” he said. “People will definitely talk about our wedding day for years to come.”
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