As England’s national soccer team heads into the Euro Cup semifinals against Denmark tonight, the increasingly isolated, EU-departed, island country has a real chance of bringing the trophy home.
This would be an exceptionally rare event, akin to being struck by lightning. Twice.
Not only would a tournament win break a losing streak extending back over five decades, it would also likely offer a welcome financial pop to a country mired in worry over a Brexit-inspired, and COVID-lockdown-accentuated, economic slump.
On the streets of London and elsewhere, the English are wary of expressing optimism, fearing they might jinx the game. But after four wins, a draw, and not a goal conceded in five games, this soccer-mad country is finally allowing itself to engage in something resembling hope.
The final four matches will all be played at Wembley Stadium in London, and more than half the population of England is expected to tune in for, should it happen, a finals match featuring the home team. And while pandemic restrictions have added a level of social-distancing complication to watching the tournament in large groups in public, England’s pubs have been booked up for weeks ahead of this year’s finals.
A first time for everything?
Pessimism and doubt are, for many reasons, the easy baseline as England heads into the semifinal game against Denmark on Wednesday.
England has never won the European Cup. In fact, the last time the England team won anything meaningful was in 1966 at the FIFA World Cup, which is brought up so often, one would think it happened yesterday.
Furthering the natural turn toward pessimism, the English team is walking onto the pitch against the backdrop of a contentiously negotiated Brexit, a poorly managed pandemic that’s left hundreds of thousands dead, and tense ongoing conversations about a society further split by poverty, racism, and homophobia.
But in a unifying display all across England, chants of “It’s coming home” can be heard around every corner—making reference to the 1996 song “Three Lions,” which is often played before, during and after England games.
And with Goldman Sachs Group predicting an England win in a report noting “It’s (probably) coming home,” that optimism has found a kind of mathematical backstop. Using data from 6,000 matches played since 1980, the investment bank predicts England will go on to win the finals after beating Denmark 2–1 tomorrow at the semifinals.
Oddsmakers are also on the England bandwagon. Odds for an England win on Bet365.com are at 9 to 4.
Happily for England—if it can win—sports often have a positive knock-on economic effect.
During the 2018 World Cup, the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) estimated the English economy had benefited from an extra £1 billion in spending when England made it to the semifinals. And, also in pre-pandemic times, when Leicester City won the Premier League in 2015 against 5,000-to-1 odds, the team managed to boost the local Leicester economy by more than £140 million, and support over 2,500 jobs, economists later tallied.
The “feel good effect,” as Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg, puts it, shows up across economic data with unusually high numbers in retail sales as well as in pub and restaurant spending. “Whenever you get these feel-good impulses in consumer spending,” he notes, “you tend to get a constellation of purchases.”
However, in the 2021 post-COVID economic recovery world, economic data is so skewed with strong growth, it has become difficult for statisticians and economists to extract the champion effect in practice.
The morning after England beat Germany—on a day when London’s FTSE 100 index dropped 0.7%—Jim Reid of Deutsche Bank noted how the usual way of things had come unglued in 2021. “I can’t believe at the start of my career that equity markets genuinely went up in countries that won important matches at major tournaments,” he wrote in an investor note. “Life was so much simpler back then.”
Others, however, are more pessimistic when it comes to a post-win economic pop. Peter Arnold, partner at EY, noted that while good English performances drive strong sales in pubs, bars, and shops, “spending is often diverted from other activities and can be short-lived.”
‘I don’t want to jinx it’
Despite the expected growth, the positive knock-on effect is expected to be far less significant than in previous years. For one thing, during the Euros, swarms of football fans usually travel from country to country chasing games—“consuming, buying, watching games, and moving on,” Pickering tells Fortune—something impossible in pandemic times.
Alongside a loss in football tourism, COVID-19 restrictions also limit the number of fans who go to pubs. The British Beer and Pub Association has predicted 6.8 million pints will be sold during the England-Denmark match, considerably less than the 12 million that would have been sold had restrictions been lifted.
And while optimism is high, obstacles stand in the way of an England win. There is still, for example, the matter of getting to the finals in the first place.
Denmark will be a formidable semifinal opponent as its players fight for teammate Christian Eriksen, who had a cardiac arrest on the pitch in the opening group stage match. The British TV channel ITV, which is broadcasting the semifinal exclusively, is also said to be “cursed”—having broadcast England matches since 1998 and only getting four wins.
Finally, there’s the issue of the sheer number of English people who say, “I don’t want to jinx it,” before describing the play-by-play of an England win in detail—and can only be tempting the gods of jinx to make the 55-year trophy-free streak extend into year 56.
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