England’s ‘most patriotic estate’ is hanging out the flags ahead of the first Euros kickoff this Friday.

The Kirby estate in Bermondsey, London, has a reputation for going all out when England’s football teams compete in the World Cup or European Championship’s.

As many as 700 flags flutter from poles and hang from bunting crisscrossing between balconies when football season arrives.

Walls are adorned with murals of the estate’s namesake, Lionesses midfielder Fran Kirby, a huge St George’s cross and the fallen soldiers of past wars.

It’s captured the imagination of England fans and even the team itself.

Ahead of the team’s first match against Serbia on Sunday, residents clad in oversized England hoodies are decorating the estate with hundreds of St George’s crosses.

‘Some would say it’s racist, but it’s not’, Chris Dowse, 45, said, acknowledging the flag’s appropriation by far-right activists like the English Defence League.

‘We are English, this is our country. People slate the flag and what it supposedly mean, but for us it means supporting Gareth [Southgate], the England boys and the Lionesses in whatever competition they’re taking part in.

‘It just makes you feel proud to be English, but knowing we’re going to lose.’

Spend an afternoon on the estate and the word you’ll keep hearing is ‘inclusive’.

Martin, who displayed his Cameroon flag during the World Cup, said: ‘It’s very inclusive. It portrays a very welcome image.

‘When I have friends here during the football, the ambiance that’s around here, they’re all very happy.

‘I was just chatting with my wife and she’s planning what’s she’s going to cook on the day of the football – a nice meal, jollof rice with a lot of vegetables.’

In a world where people complain of not knowing their neighbours, this estate has held onto an almost old-fashioned sense of community.

They know each other by name, not just a face to nod at in passing.

Martin said: ‘It’s a very lovely community. People care about each other, they think about each other.

‘When I came here [three years ago during covid-19], the world had lots of problems, but they all ganged together.’

It hasn’t always been like that, according to Geraldine Howard, 58, who’s lived here for 35 years.

Kids would hang out in stairwells, and taxis and delivery drivers would swerve the estate for fear of being mugged.

‘We always had a good community, we’ve always looked out for each other, for each other’s kids’, Geraldine said.

‘Obviously it wasn’t like this, but it’s getting better. I love coming home from work [at Boots] and the kids are out playing football. I love it.’

Their football tournament festivities – when Chris becomes DJ Fatboy, they feast on each flat’s dish, and fans watch footie on a telly – are no small part of that change.

Past years have seen yellow-jersey-wearing Colombians watching along as victorious England fans jumped into each other’s arms.

‘If your country is in it, we’ll put your country out’, Geraldine said. ‘We’ve had Spanish, French, Colombian, German.’

Matilda, Martin’s wife, said: ‘It makes you feel alive, and you come to know your neighbours. It makes you feel like you belong somewhere.

‘In case of any trouble, you know how to interact, because in some estates you don’t know who your next door neighbour is, nobody is there to assist you.

‘But here the football brings all of the estate together as one family.’

At it since the 2012 Euros when Geraldine hung an England flag outside her flat and Alan Putman, 54, followed suit, Kirby only went ‘proper viral’ in 2018.

Footage of the fully decked-out estate was posted online, and within a day it had six million views.

‘What the hell is happening’, Chris asked himself.

‘Then lo and behold, the following morning we were sitting here and a mini-bus turned up.

‘It was loads of people in suits and loads of people in hi-vis vests. It was the council, so we thought, “Here we go, they’re going to tell us to take them down”.

‘But they said, “Don’t worry, we’re just here to tidy up the estate because we know the press are coming”.

‘That entire day was solid with news reporters, vans. Whatever channel you can think of, they were here.

‘From that moment on, everyone wants to know when the Kirby are doing it.’

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

For more stories like this, check our news page.

Get your need-to-know latest news, feel-good stories, analysis and more by signing up to Metro's News Updates newsletter

2024-06-11T14:30:39Z dg43tfdfdgfd