Tuesday, July 04, 2006

England vs Portugal, 1st July 2006

English supporter, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Despite having taken my tent and sleeping bag, I ended up spending the night in a hotel in Koln. The Italy vs Ukraine match finished at 11.00 and I was feeling quite ill, as a result of dehydration earlier in the day. Also tired on my feet.... so I was lucky to find a place with a room available, for not too much money, albeit the room was facing the noisy street and was very very hot.

The streets were particularly noisy because Italy had just won, after Germany had won, so all the cars were going by tooting their horns, whilst flags were being waved around. A great atmosphere.. could almost have been Rome!

After a poor night's sleep, a nutricious breakfast in the hotel and some homeopathic medicine from a nearby chemist and I was back at the station. After much confusion, I was on the full train to Essen from where it was a ten minute ride to Gelsenkirchen. The platform here was a sea of white and red and a bit of blue, with some lost Brazilian supporters adding spatters of yellow. I thinjk Portugal were supposed to be -playing, but there were very few supporters to be seen.

Already, there was a great atmosphere, the whole town becoming one great big English fan fest, with about 100,000 English arriving to soak up the atmosphere and support their team.

The organisation was incredible, as they had set up two big screens in the racecourse just outside the centre and had laid on free buses to transport the fans there from the station. The bus I caught was full and very very hot and filled with the songs of the English, supporting their team... and every now and then being nasty to the Scots (their Frist Minister having asked for it by declaring publicly that he was supporting any team which was playing against England).

It was a long walk from where the bus dropped us off, to the racecourse (trotting only) and I was pleased to see that they had provided us with a campsite as well. The racecourse was as sea of red and white with two massive screens positioned to give everyone excellent views.

I was nursing a heavy cold, from yesterday, so there was no beer for me, just as well, as the temperature was hot and in fact many people were asleep on the grass by the time the match started.

Although it was not exaciting like being in the stadium would have been, with no communal song sessions, it did feel good to be there altogether in anticipation of what England might finally do for us... and I kept wondering what it'd be like when Engand put the ball in the back of the net. If it was anything like Germany's goal the night before, it would be an electrifying moment.

So, the match started eventually andit continued and, to be honest, it was all rather low key, no real sense of excitement, strangely enough. England were going to meet their destiny and we were just spectators, hoping for the best. England played well, Portugal not so well. The referee seemed to alittle bit overconcerned to protect the Portuguese players after the treatment they had at the hands of the Dutch. We were still hopeful, as although we never actually looked like scoring a goal, we were creating more chances than the opponents. It still seemd as if the system was working against England, with a lone Rooney up front unable to really scare the opposition. The defenders were doing well, while Hargreaves was doing the best of teh mid-fielders.

We had BBC commentary, with John Motson. Whenever a Figo or a Ronaldo would get the ball, he would change the pitch of his voice to indicate danger for England, the ball being in possession of a great player. He never did this with the English players and it semed as if he rated the Portuguese as better and more dangerous players than any English player, except maybe Rooney.

Beckham was injured and replaced by Lennon. Half time came and went. Rooney got sent off. England started playing even better. Time was running out. It ran out and we were into sextra time and by now, almost everyone could sense what was coming.

There were only two moments of hope and excitement for the loyal English supporters when the second of the Portuguese missed and Hargreaves got his penalty in. And from then, only disappointment. When it happened, it just went quiet. England out . Again. Time ot think about going home. The dream of the last four years dashed by an incompetent trainer who could not get the best out of his golden boys.

I lay down in the grass, as did many others. The field emptied. After about half an hour, people go their spirits back and started having more fun, certainly around the water cannon provided by the German police.

A few of us stayed to watch France deservedly beat Brazil until it got dark and it really was time to be getting on. I pitched the tent up in the dark and spet a bit of time in the music tent before going to bed. There was talk of German police chasing after English fans in the town centre but there don't seem to have been any real problems.

The next day, the long journey home. I found it quite annoying that while Germany still seems to be capable of winning football matches, they seem to have lost the knack of running the trains on time, with the result that it took seven hours to get home!


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