The Lionesses landed at Heathrow this morning after their World Cup defeat – but left waiting fans disappointed after leaving through a private exit.
England’s players left Sydney more than 24 hours before landing at Heathrow at around 6.20am on Tuesday morning.
Waiting fans had carried signs and gathered in the airport to greet the Women’s World Cup runners-up, with hopes raised when the team’s bags were wheeled through Terminal 3’s arrivals hall.
BBC commentator and former player Alex Scott was also spotted walking through the airport, but members of the team itself were nowhere to be seen.
Airport staff eventually told waiting fans the team had left already.
Joanne Bruce, 51, travelled from Cambridgeshire at 10.30pm last night with her niece and sister, in the hope of thanking the team for their performance.
“We haven’t slept, we have just laughed and joked,” she said.
“It was just the three of us to start with. My sister was like ‘I really want to go early’.”
She added other fans “didn’t come until about four o’clock this morning”.
“We have now got a car parking ticket of £70-80, maybe more.”
The team lost 1-0 at a packed-out Stadium Australia in Sydney in the World Cup final on Sunday, failing to repeat their success at Euros 2022.
It was Spain’s first major international trophy – and England’s first competitive defeat under manager Sarina Wiegman in two years.
What’s next for the team?
The squad will regroup next month for its first tilt at the newly-formed UEFA Women’s Nations League – with their first match against Scotland taking place at the Stadium of Light in Sunderland on 22 September.
The final of the league will determine which European nations qualify for the women’s football tournament at the 2024 Paris Olympics, with both the winners and runners-up qualifying for the Games.
The Nations League and the return of the Women’s Premier League the following month will provide an early chance to see if there is a World Cup bounce in public interest in the women’s game.
Interest in the Lionesses has not wavered despite their loss in the final.
Thousands have rallied to sign a petition calling on Nike to make a replica of Mary Earps’ shirt.
The England goalkeeper was voted the best keeper at the tournament and saved a penalty in the final, and Google Trends found online searches for her shirt rose 257% in a week.
More than 73,000 people have signed a petition after the manufacturer failed to include her kit in its selection of replica shirts printed with the names of the outfield players.
Nike has said it will re-think its approach in the future.
The prime minister and the Prince of Wales, who is president of the Football Association, were both criticised for not flying to Australia to see the squad play in the final.
A minister said Rishi Sunak “would have loved to have been there” but was too busy to go.
Education Minister Claire Coutinho told Sky News there was sufficient high-level representation at the match, as both the foreign secretary and sport secretary were in the stands.
“I know that the prime minister would have loved to have been there but he’s also got a huge amount of work to do,” Ms Coutinho said.
She denied that Mr Sunak would have gone if it had been the men’s team, saying “his schedule is so busy”.
The prime minister said he watched the game at his local pub in Northallerton and praised the Lionesses for leaving “an incredible set of memories” and inspiring “a whole generation of youngsters”.