5 July ~ The 2010 World Cup was my first time following England abroad and a hugely enjoyable experience it was, despite the results. Wandering around Johannesburg airport on Monday night (my flight had been delayed because of the plane taking the England team home, to add insult to injury), I came across a snack bar called Capellos, which promised "Food. Passion. People". I couldn’t help but snort.
The atmosphere around South Africa was terrific – the people were friendly, the police helpful and fans mingled happily, despite local disappointment at the national team’s failure to make it out of the group and also that the number of tourists ended up around 250,000, rather than the predicted 900,000.
The BBC website headline after the Algeria game was that there had been no arrests in Cape Town despite the shambolic performance (ie, a story that nothing happened – either on or off the pitch) and that came as no surprise. I was struck by how many women and families were at the England games and people were there for a party. Most were dressed up, from basic England kit to knights and a group of Capellos with curly wigs and blazers – I heard them comparing stories with others about which papers they had appeared in.
The wearable flag seems to have become a fashion accessory of choice for fans from over the world. I was also surprised that "No surrender" still forms part of England fans’ repertoire, slipped in during the national anthem as the music swells towards "Send her victorious".
Slovenia in Port Elizabeth was undoubtedly the best England game for atmosphere. We seemed to have taken over the stadium, which negated the fact that the ticketing arrangements spread people all over the place, and the goal undoubtedly helped cheer everyone up. And having been stuck in front of a vuvuzela in Cape Town and left the game with a headache, being near the Sheffield Wednesday band in Port Elizabeth was actually a pleasure. England fans tired of the vuvuzelas and they were very much in the background after Cape Town.
The unexpected trip to Bloemfontein meant a right old scramble for tickets, not helped by FIFA’s rigid ticketing arrangements – there was no way to use the FIFA ticket exchange system at such short notice, for example. I paid over the odds for a category one ticket (the top of the four categories of tickets sold for each game) that somehow only entitled me to be five rows from the front by the corner flag. When we reached Bloemfontein we could hear touts desperately trying to offload tickets at face value.
The empty seats at some games were not just because the likes of New Zealand didn’t stir the soul. The people I was staying with, for example, had bought a New Zealand ticket series that got them into a game in every round, including the final. They were not interested in attending New Zealand’s games, they were just doing it because they were easy to get hold of and ensured they could go to the big matches later in the tournament – the tickets reverted to the team that topped the group once the Kiwis were knocked out. The series ticket was also the reason I was surrounded by Australian fans at the Germany game, who chortled away as the Poms were hammered.
The Germany game was certainly an experience, albeit in a surprisingly ramshackle old stadium, and from my perspective we were beaten by a team that was organised and balanced where England were not – they didn’t have to do anything special to beat us. The only anger I saw was towards the officials as text messages began flooding in after the Lampard "goal", and I even heard some England fans congratulating the Germans at full-time. We knew we had been well beaten.
After the insipid performances at the last World Cup I felt seriously let down by England and determined not to care much about what they got up to. But I let myself get sucked back in by the Capello hype and witnessing the demolition of Croatia at Wembley. Well, I’ve learnt that lesson. It’s Altrincham at home for my team, Luton, on August 14, and that will do for me. Neil Rose