Back in issue 234 we asked you for your views on the World Cup and more than 600 readers took part. Roger Titford shares the results and compares them to the answers you gave us after the 1998 finals

While England may have had a Grip on the bench, WSC readers were less gripped by the 2006 World Cup, our summer survey reveals. Despite – or perhaps because of – the high hopes for England, there was a rather grumpy response to the tournament compared with the answers we had to similar questions in our 1998 France World Cup survey.

The proportion watching 50 or more of the 64 matches fell from 54 per cent to 32 per cent and the figure for those watching the match of England’s seemingly inevitable demise fell from 89 per cent against Argentina in 1998 to 84 per cent against Portugal this time. As a quarter of readers did not actively support England slippage was always likely, but some unfortunates were trapped in as diverse a selection of places as the Roger Waters concert in Hyde Park, the Roskilde Music Festival in Denmark, the members’ room at Headingley and a traffic jam on the M1 at junction 15.

Compared with 1998, it appears that many readers have risen in the work hierarchy to the point where they can better control the time spent watching football: “Rearranged the duty roster for 60 people so I could watch England.” “Cancelled a meeting I chair and went home an hour early.” “Worked from home for a month – apart from a weekend in Stuttgart.” “I bought a TV for my office ‘for the benefit of the staff’ out of petty cash.” Skiving off work to watch games was down by ten per cent to 24 per cent.

By contrast family, friends, weddings and anniversaries often require excuses or stratagems of some magnitude. “My sister lives in Japan so Japan are like my country-in-law.” “Built a tree-house in the garden supposedly for our three-year-old and secretly installed a portable TV.” “Had a heart attack but cardiac ward had no TV so sneaked out to another ward where they had a good telly.”

Yet on the overall measures of couch potato “participation”, we saw declines in drinking too much, putting on weight, getting into a fight and buying a new TV. Has the Arsène Wenger effect reached the sofas of our beige and unpleasant lounges – or are we just getting older and wearier? Even filling in the World Cup wallchart right to the end was down from 48 per cent to 26 per cent.

Ten per cent saw at least one match live in Germany (against 11 per cent for France in 1998) and some major feats of expenditure of time and money were required: “Three-day trip to Germany to see one non-England match.” “An expensive train to Nuremberg and failed to get into Iran v Mexico.” “Spent £1,000 on a hotel in Cologne for a week.” “Driving for 18 hours to get to Nuremberg for the Trinidad & Tobago game.”

Germany 2006 was relatively ­hooligan-free, so it must have been the England side’s performance that was behind a dramatic decline in “proud of the team and most of its supporters” from 39 per cent to 13 per cent and a large rise in feeling “ambivalent”. Blame for the exit was firmly put in Sven’s court (52 per cent versus 18 per cent for Hoddle in 1998), while Rooney’s red card earned only an eighth (four per cent) of the opprobrium that Beckham’s gained (32 per cent).

Of the innovations, the majority approved of fan parks for the ticketless, the crackdown on gamesmanship (seen as theoretical by many) and referees with microphones. Only 13 per cent liked the new swerving ball. There are always complaints on this score, but it’s unlikely FIFA will introduce what US coach Bruce Arena believes is the goalkeeper’s ideal ball – “heavy and square”. Only 40 per cent of readers approved of the crackdown on lunging tackles and back in 1998 only 35 per cent approved of banishing the tackle from behind. Are two thirds of our readers ex-centre-backs? The call for video technology has increased slightly since 1998 – from 36 per cent to 40 per cent – and 43 per cent would like to see a sin-bin introduced.

Given that 23 per cent of those readers who made the effort to fill in the survey “got sick of football” during the world’s premier tournament, the general sense of being underwhelmed must be massive – nearly two thirds now feel they are less likely to follow England abroad in the future.

From WSC 237 November 2006. What was happening this month

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