Sorry if you’re totally bored by the football by now, but I’m afraid I’ve been continuing to enjoy this year’s competition. Last Thursday, I joined a bunch of Aussies in a central London pub to watch their final group game. With a somewhat depressing predictability, the beeb had chosen to show Brazil as their main BBC1 game (which offered only the remotest of outside chances of Japan qualifying), instead of the one remaining group F match that actually meant something, relegating Australia v Croatia to BBC3. After gently assisting the bar staff in locating said digital channel on their Sky system, we settled in for the match. I hate to admit it, but I was rather caught up in the atmosphere, and I actually wanted the Aussies to win (and that’s not something you’ll hear me saying very often): they were far the better team on the night, for one, and they seemed to come off rather worse from Graham Poll’s erratic decisions (even before the revelation that he can’t count to 2). Rugby tackling Mark Viduka to the ground, for example, apparently doesn’t warrant a penalty (nor, for that matter, does a blatant handball). When Australia equalised for the second time, I actually found myself unconsciously leaping into the air and cheering (before I was able to check myself and revert to polite clapping). Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear: I feel like I’ve cheated on England.
On arriving at work the next morning, I was amused to see that the Wikipedia monkeys had already been busy cataloguing Poll’s misfortunes. It’s been removed since then, but when I first looked at it, the Croatia v Australia section of that page ended simply with the following final paragraph: “He will be too old for the 2010 world cup.” Clearly he’s a man with many fans around the world.
On Sunday, we joined our friends in South London to catch the England game near their house. Their local, otherwise a quiet gastropub populated by young professionals, had unfortunately been taken over by lairy, En-ger-land-shirted drunks, who were climbing on the bar and filling the room with very loud terrace-style chanting. It gave the pub a deeply unpleasant atmosphere and precipitated 45 of the most unpleasant minutes of my life as we struggled to concentrate on the game. I considered leaving after about 10 minutes, but somehow we lasted for a full half before fleeing to the much more pleasant place round the corner. It didn’t help that the pathetic volume levels on the pub’s TVs struggled to compete with the localised chanting (and, I suppose, the woeful England performance didn’t help matters much either). Suffice to say, we won’t be heading back to that pub for any of their future games.
There’s a sizeable Portuguese community in the Stockwell/Vauxhall area, so we hung around for the other game, Portugal v Holland. In the hours leading up to the kick-off, we barely saw a single individual not wearing some item of clothing proclaiming their support for the red and green team. Most cars that passed us seemed to be engaging in a special one-upmanship contest to see who could fit the most Portuguese flags on their vehicle. We watched most of the bad-tempered clash from a comfy sofa in the pub, but we wandered down to the street to join the crowds for the last 20 minutes: we joined a few hundred people crowded outside the tapas restaurants down the road, chants of “POR-TU-GAL, POR-TU-GAL” ringing out. As we pushed through the crowd to find a spot to settle, a bloke shouted to me:
“Oi, it’s Peter Crouch! Hey Peter Crouch…” (Well, I was wearing a red t-shirt and white shorts).
I did my best attempt at a robot dance as we passed.
When the final whistle finally went, after they held on for some 6 minutes of added time (a testament to the type of game it was), the crowds went predictably crazy. There was much cheering. People climbed up onto lampposts to wave their giant flags around. Car horns were very much tooted. We almost forgot we were in a corner of South London, and not wandering the streets of Lisbon. All that, and they’d only won their second round match. I can only imagine how crazy they’d be if they made it past England and went on to win the thing…
Today I arrived at work at the crack of dawn in an attempt to reach the pub in time for the 4pm kick off in the Australia v Italy game. Surely they can’t do it again, can they?
EDIT: Er, no. They can’t. But pretty close, and if wasn’t for a cynical dive and an unjustified penalty at the death, who knows what might have happened…