Pride Passion Belief

Three Lions, Four Friends & English football…

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Wed 23rd: England Vs Slovenia

Crunch time for England

Fans Friendly

6am rise for us as we had to drive 100k into Port Elizabeth town centre for an 8:30am meet. The first time I heard about the Fansfriendly initiative was on the Englandfans website – we had lost to the Germans, who by all accounts, had been rather professional in their approach, holding trials and training sessions to select the best players. The friendly games are arranged for every competitive qualifier by Mark Perryman, a prominent member of the Englandfans, the England supporters club. After seeing our defeat against Germany I wanted to get involved and played against Russia in the Euro 2008 campaign at Wembley Park. Unfortunately, since the Russia game, injury has limited my England career to a place running the line so it was great to be back playing again.

The fans friendly was preceded by a visit to the Astra Primary School in a local township of PE. As our coach pulled up to the school gates a crown had gathered to greet us. I have never experienced a welcome like it, as we walked through into the school, the kids, teachers and locals lined either side, shook our hands, waved and honked on the Vuvuzellas – it felt like we were celebs! Mark did a short presentation in the staff room to thank the teachers for their hospitality and presented the school with and plaque of an England flag. We were invited to take a look round the school, which essentially meant a trip to the playground for a kickabout and to hear music being blasted out from a PA. The kids entertained us with the ‘Diski‘ dance – a serious of football related dance moves to some South African beats. After the dance, Mark took centre strange, entertaining the kids with and explanation of the extra syllable in Eng – ger – land and chants of ‘We’re not going home, we’re not going home, we’re not going, we’re not going, we’re not going home’…

We moved from the school into the local community sports pitch for the main event, the fans friendly. The facilities were basic but reasonable, the pitch was flat, a privilege that is not often afforded to amateur teams in the UK (I will spare you a rant about the state of UK sports facilities). We were playing against the local league Champions. The team looked fairly athletic. I managed to catch Garford, the manager fairly early on and bag myself a place in the starting lineup. Joycey and DBR were on the bench. There was plenty of media at the event both from local papers, a local TV station and also ITN. After a brief warm up, we lined up for a team foto, received a brief speech from the local Mayor and walked onto the pitch each escorting a South African kid from the Primary school. After belting out the National Anthem it was time for kick off…

The opposition looked fairly athletic compared to the collection of beer bellied Englishmen but they weren’t amazing on the ball. I played in centre mid with a decent enough player from a Saturday league in South London, we managed to get a few decent passes going. It wasn’t long before DBR was on and after a couple of interchanges he slotted me through on goal. I thought I had got over the stage of having a nose bleed in front of goal but to my ab-sol-lute disgust I snatched at the shot and pulled it wide. I slightly redeemed myself by playing in our right midfielder (Dean) through for the first goal. The opposition pulled one back towards the end of the first half to make it level. I came off at half time and Joycey sured-up the defence after being installed at centre back. I was asked to do a TV interview with for a local channel which was an odd experience. The second half saw a ‘winning’ goal from our left back, Adam after a cross from the right hand side. To our disbelief the Ref ruled that he had handled! The game ended 1-1 and we retired to the pavilion for some local food and a bottle of Powerade…

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England Vs Slovenia

The coach dropped us off about five minutes walk from the Stadium. Most of the Englandfans stopped for a beer in the first available pub. One thing about being away at the tournament is that you miss the media build up to the game. All the talk about starting lineups and formations is heard from other fans or via the internet. I do like soaking up the media speculation at home but it’s also good to hear the gossip flying round before the game at a tournament, most of the news is picked up from talking to other fans: ‘My mate was was with a journalist at the training camp who said’… ‘My brother just text me, he knows Joe Cole’s cousin and just heard that’… It all adds to the build up.

Nedwards and I got our faces painted. DBR dished out the England hats he has amassed over the years. We gathered our flags and made our way to the stadium. Despite beer being banned at all FIFA / UEFA qualifying games it seems they have allowed it to be sold at the games, even better, you can drink your beer in view of the pitch. The mood of the fans seemed good, optimistic, but there was definitely a sense of nerves. The Vuvuzellas were fairly loud but not as annoying as watching a game on TV. I didn’t see many Englandfans with one. In fact, chant of the day was: ‘You can stick your Vuvuzella up your arse’! 

We were sat near the England band which is always a good spot. The stadium was pretty impressive but it was disappointing to see some (not many) empty seats. Jermain Defoe’s goal gave the crowd a real lift and seemed to remove some of the nerves. England played with a fluidity that we hadn’t seen so far this World Cup. Milner hugged the touch-line and Gerrard kept more discipline on the left, giving Lampard more room to operate in the middle. Rooney still seemed to be frustrated, dropping deep to pick up the ball although this did allow Defore to sit on the shoulder of the last defender. England’s inability to kill a game off meant there were some nervous moments in the last few moments of the game. On the whole it was a good performance. As we celebrated at the final whistile with chants of ‘We’re not going home’ and ‘Rust-ten-burg, Rust-ten-burg, Rust-ten-burg’ news filtered through that the USA had scored a last minute goal. The chants changed to ‘Bloem-fon-tein, Bloem-fon-tein, Bloem-fon-tein.’ The general consensus of the fans seemed to be relief that we were through to the next round. The worries of facing ze Germans and a more difficult route to the final could wait until another day…

After the game we continued on with the Englandfans tourbus to a local Jazz bar for more beers and entertainment from the locals. We watched the Ghana game amidst some Diski dancing and headed home (initially for 70k in the wrong direction) for a decent nights sleep.

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