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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December, 2003, 06:00 GMT
England honours World Cup stars
England's team were treated to a heroes welcome in London

England's Rugby World Cup winners completed an unprecedented day of national celebration on Monday with a champagne reception at 10 Downing Street.

Hundreds of thousands of England supporters had earlier paid tribute to their heroes at a victory parade in central London.

The city's West End ground to a halt as the England team held aloft the William Webb Ellis trophy in front of a delirious crowd.

Following the Sweet Chariot victory parade, the England players went on to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Prince Philip, Prince William, Prince Edward and Princess Anne also took the opportunity to speak to the World Cup winners, who posed for a team photo with the Queen and her corgis.

Being on this bus is one of the greatest moments of my life
Jonny Wilkinson
And the day ended with Prime Minister Tony Blair hosting the players and their partners at 10 Downing Street.

Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, Liberal Democrats leader Charles Kennedy and Sports Minister Richard Caborn were among the guests.

Caborn described the mood as "very relaxed", and added: "The players moved around and talked to Tony, members of the Cabinet and members of the opposition as well."

Star player Jonny Wilkinson left number 10 through a back door, while skipper Martin Johnson rushed off saying he had a train to catch.

Police estimated that 750,000 supporters made the trip to central London, making the day the largest sporting celebration of its kind in the United Kingdom.

The scenes even eclipsed the celebrations of 37 years ago when England's football team paraded the Jules Rimet trophy.

The streets were a sea of white and red as the England team, travelling in two specially painted open top buses, began their parade at Marble Arch.

The sound of English rugby's adopted anthem 'Swing Low Sweet Chariot' followed the vehicles around the city as tickertape rained down.

The greatest cheer was reserved for the team's arrival in Trafalgar Square where captain Johnson paid tribute to his side's huge support during the World Cup.

"It's been incredible," an emotional Johnson said. "This is awesome, absolutely mindblowing.

"We had thousands of fans in Australia, but this is something else."

A beaming England coach Clive Woodward admitted he was shocked with the size of the crowd.

Fans turned up in their thousands
Fans turned up in their thousands to glimpse their heroes
"This is extraordinary," he said. "I never thought I'd see this for an England rugby team. The support has been brilliant."

Drop-kick hero Wilkinson added: "We're overwhelmed. It matters so much to get this support and being on this bus now is one of the greatest moments of my life.

"It's great to be able to pay back the fans who travelled half way around the world as well as those who stayed at home.

"We owe everyone a massive amount."

England's squad and management left Marble Arch at 1200 GMT and travelled eastbound along Oxford St, Regent St and Pall Mall.

The parade caused travel delays in the West End with a number of roads closed and tube lines overcrowded.

But the problems failed to dampen the mood with England number eight Lawrence Dallaglio declaring: "This is quite a humbling experience.

"Today is particularly significant. It's a chance for us English to pat ourselves on the back.

"Everyone's very proud and very patriotic and today's an opportunity for the fans to show that."

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone paid tribute to England's heroism down under by awarding the team the Freedom of the City of Greater London.

"You are the first and only people to be awarded that distinction," he added. "London salutes you."



Links to more Rugby World Cup stories


 

WATCH AND LISTEN
England's Jonny Wilkinson
"We're overwhelmed by all this support"


England coach Clive Woodward
"I never thought I'd see this"



SEE ALSO
Rugby's capital day out
08 Dec 03  |  Rugby World Cup
Daydream believers, homecoming kings
09 Dec 03  |  Rugby World Cup


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