Around 40 people brought England flags and handmade banners to Heathrow Airport on Tuesday morning, with one group having arrived last night, but the team are understood to have left via a private exit after touching down just after 6.30am.
Others brought flowers for head coach Sarina Wiegman, while placards featured messages saying ‘you all made us proud’ and ‘can we have two T-shirts please?’.
Hopes were raised when former England player and presenter Alex Scott was spotted walking through arrivals, with fans saying she hinted the team would follow, and the crowd burst out into chants of ‘Sweet Caroline’.
The team’s bags with the squad logo were also carried through.
Hope turned to disappointment when it was later confirmed by airport staff that the Lionesses had left the airport and the crowd soon dispersed.
A small number of fans watched at arrivals for a little longer just to be sure they had not missed out on any action.
Joanne Bruce, 51, travelled from Wisbech in Cambridgeshire to the airport at 10.30pm last night with her niece and sister in the hope of thanking the team for their tournament performance.
She told the PA news agency: “We haven’t slept, we have just laughed and joked.
“It was just the three of us to start with. My sister was like ‘I really want to go early’.”
When asked if there any other fans were at the airport then she replied: “No, no, no. They didn’t come until about four o’clock this morning.
“We have now got a car parking ticket of £70-80, maybe more.
“I was very, very disappointed (about the final result). Seeing (captain) Millie (Bright) with tears in her eyes, it just brought tears to my eyes. I really felt for them as well.
“They have definitely done us proud, to get as far as they have.”
Her sister Lisa Fountain, 42, told PA she was “gutted” not to have seen them, but said it was “definitely nothing to do with them, because they are so humble”.
She added: “We came here to give them the hero’s welcome. OK, they came second, but just to get into the final was an absolutely amazing achievement.
“These girls have captured the nation’s heart in so many ways and on so many levels, they have done so much for women’s sport, not just football, and we just wanted to say: ‘Look guys we are so, so proud of you as a country. We’re with you, we support you, you hurt, we hurt, we are your fans.’
“There’s no words for what they’ve done for this country over the last year to 18 months.”
Michelle Atkins, who did not want to give her age, travelled from nearby Hayes with her 10-year-old nephew Mason to see the girls come through and they were still watching at arrivals after most people had left disappointed.
The youngster told PA: “I bought my book, I always write in it and I bought this (a pen) so they can maybe sign it for me.
“When we finally heard they were not coming out, like actually confirmation, I was devastated because I wanted to see Mary or Millie Bright, because they have done extremely well in the World Cup and I’m proud of them.”
His aunt added: “My sister, she wanted to be a footballer when she was little but she was laughed out of town, so it’s really nice to see that it’s making change for the young girls, and even him (Mason), he was playing in goal as Mary Earps yesterday!”
Kate Sheard, 44, a community wildlife manager who travelled from Bedfordshire to see the team, told PA: “We were excited just to see their luggage come through because we were like: ‘They’ve not left, they’re here, woo their luggage is coming through’.
“So it kind of built that atmosphere and it was like: ‘Are they coming, are they coming, how long is it going to be?’ So it’s just a little bit disappointing that we didn’t get to show our love and support and how proud of them we are today.”
Sian Redmond, 34, travelled from Coventry and arrived at around 4pm in the hope of glimpsing the Lionesses.
Her 11-year-old daughter Minnie had bought flowers and a pen in the hope of getting autographs from her favourite football stars.
The mother told PA: “Women’s football is definitely getting up there now, and they have definitely inspired the likes of her (Minnie). She’s been playing since she was six and the women’s football over anything has inspired her.”
Kate Daly, 52, who runs a tech-start up in south-west London and arrived at around 5am, said: “I am so proud of the team, what they have achieved is amazing. I think they have created a massive legacy for women’s football, coming off the back of the Euros, having two really big conversations about women’s football in quick succession is incredible.
“I want them to know that we are all absolutely proud of them.
“It was gutting on Sunday but you can’t take away from the fact we have reached the final and that they’ve played so well, and that the team have had to cope with so many different things, it shows such strength of character, it just sets us up for so many more tournaments.
“I think that’s the difference between the men’s and the women’s, it didn’t feel like: ‘This is our only chance.’”