Pride Passion Belief

Three Lions, Four Friends & English football…

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Exit & Aftermath

Okay, so it’s 8 months now since I last posted to this blog. England’s humiliating defeat to ze Germans in Bloemfontein is sufficiently in the past for the story of the World Cup in South Africka to be revisited.

The morning after our exit, we woke up in a freezing cold campsite,  hungover, amidst a hoard of other Englandfans packing their bags for the airport. Having (rather stupidly) gambled on Englands progression the final (or at least the semi’s) we had another 2 weeks to explore South Africa. On one side I’m thinking, this is not so bad, no work, with my pals, beautiful and interesting country. On the other side, it’s difficult not to think that the reason we had flown 6000 odd miles was for the World Cup which was an instant reminder of the slipshod defending, lack of desire, determinate and respect for the fans that the 3 lions had shown the previous night.

One thing that struck me as we were being taught a football lesson by ze Germans was the lack of aggression. England, famed for the ‘never say die’ attitude, applauded for the grit and determination shown week in, week out during the hustle & bustle of the Premiership was just not there. Okay, so Spain showed that Total Football can work against a physical, fired-up opponent, but in the remaining minutes of that game in Bloemfontein I couldn’t help myself urging the players to ‘get stuck in’, to at least pick up some yellow cards on their way out. This is not a proud thought, but at the time it would have given me some comfort to think that at least they did care and they wouldn’t give up in the final Whistle had gone. Unfortunately not only were we outclassed by Germany, but they wanted it more, they were technically better and they were a genuine team that their county could be proud of. Almost as disappointing  as the performance was to see the England players traipsing off at the end of the game without a word of thanks to the fans. I’m not suggesting that they are a bunch of arrogant stars who don’t care about turning out for their county. It must have hurt to go out, but it would have been nice if they had mustered a round of applause for the fans, thrown a shirt into the crowd,  even given an acknowledging nod. But it was over…

View our World Cup Slideshow

The next two weeks we visited some amazing sights, Graaff-Reinet in the ‘Valley of Desolation’, Cape Town, several spots along the Garden Route and eventually to Johannesburg for the Final. What an amazing country this is, the effort made for the World Cup was staggering, the hospitality and friendliness of the people could not have been further from the truth from all the pre-tournament scare-stories in the British press before the tournament. Check out our pictures, this really was a holiday of a lifetime. Bring on Brasil 2014.

For further reading on the impact of the World Cup I would highly recommend Mark Perryman’s article ‘Three Lions Ate My Shirt’:

http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/soundings/articles/s46perryman.pdf

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Sun 27th: England Vs Germany

How did we fail to qualify top of one of the easiest groups of the World Cup? The draw with the USA was bearable. The draw with Algeria was inexcusable. The performance against Slovenia was encouraging, but failure to score more than one goal has resulted in nothing more than we deserve – a last 16 encounter with the Germans and a route to the final that could include facing both the Argies and the Spanish…

After freezing our @rses off in the tents we awoke around 9 to find that the Fans Friendly against a local team had been cancelled, giving us a bit of time to relax and get a decent breakfast before the game. There were plenty of England fans at the campsite – plenty of Germans too – mostly frequenting monstrous Winnebagos.

We got a taxi into town – the stadium in Bloem is located next to a shopping centre which is often where a lot of the bars are located in SA. There was a Waterfront area where most of the bars were located. The chants could be heard from a way off. Masses of England flags were draped over the Waterfront balconies, not too many Germans were to be seen.

As it was a Sunday, the off licences were closed. Most of the England fans were crammed into bars and restaurants, anywhere that beers could be bought. We were lucky enough to queue in a restaurant and get just about the last crate of beer available – if you knew the English and Germans were coming to town, would you not stock up on beer?!

The atmosphere before kick off was perhaps the best I’ve experienced. The chanting was pretty much non-stop for 2 hours before the game. Whilst standing on the lower level of the shopping centre we heard the national anthem being blasted out – we looked up to see the Queen and Prince Charles up on a balcony orchestrating the crowd below. There was plenty of banter with the Germans, all good natured. Some of the Englandfans had brought along some inflatable Spitfires to accompany the ’10 German bombers’ song. I’m not usually a fan of the bombers song, its pretty offensive really and having to revert to the war for chanting material is a reminder that our footballing victories against the Fatherland have been few & far between. However, on this occasion, it was sung in good spirit and the Germans even joined in.

The effort that some of the fans had gone to was impressive. Five lads had turned out as Capello look-a-likes – dressed in full England suits with the Three Lions crest on the pocket, fake tan and curly black wigs. On the way into the stadium they got the crowd going with chants of:

‘He’s a jolly Capello, for he’s a jolly Capello, he’s a jolly Capelllllooo…. and so say all of us’

and (to the sound of the Jose Mourinho tune):

‘We’ve got Don Fabio, we’ve got Don Fabio, we’ve got Don Fabio, we’ve got Don Fabiooo….’

The mood before the game was confident. Everyone we spoke to was sure England would win – we must have got the bad performances out of the way during the Group stage?  My view from behind the goal was great for the atmosphere but wasn’t the best view as I was only about 10 rows back. We seemed to start off reasonably, having plenty of possession without any real penetration. The Germans seemed to have their tactics fairly clear. Get men behind the ball, soak up the pressure, hit with speed on the counter attack. It’s well documented that England struggle to breakdown defences when they have numbers behind the ball – as we had already seen against Algeria. As with most of the fans we had spoken to, I was in favour of Joe Cole starting. Cole can unlock defences with clever through balls and that bit of magic – Lennon and SWP are skillful and do take people on, but often lose the ball in the process and their success is often limited to the wide positions. Playing Cole on the left would allow Gerrard a free role as a playmaker behind Rooney, both of whom are on the same wavelength. It also allows the two to swap, Cole is a more than capable playmaker. Anyway, Don Fabio knows his stuff, he must have put the right team out to do the job.

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After exposing our defence several times, the Germans scored. As soon as the goal went in, the England band started up again and the fans continued to support the team. We were only a goal down and fairly early on in the game. When the second went in the crown didn’t give up hope. Despite our defensive frailties, the game was open and the atmosphere was so intense it felt like this could be one of those all time classic games, England still looked dangerous on occasions and there were definitely goals to be had. When Upson’s first goal went in it was game on. When Lampards equalizer went in I must have had about three pints of beer chucked over my head. The crown went ab-sol-lut-ley bonkers. So much so, that we didn’t realise the goal had been disallowed until after the subsequent German attack. Now from where I was sitting – the opposite end of the stadium, behind the goal, I didn’t have much perspective of how far over the line the ball was, but it wasn’t needed – the crowds reaction said it all – 44’000 people can’t be wrong? That decision changed the game. Although England were in the ascendency for the first ten minutes of the second half, we couldn’t get the (real) equalizer and the Germans picked us off with alarming ease. The decision was bad and no doubt changed the game, but our defending was equally as bad. The decision to substitute Defoe for Heskey was equally as bad as our defending. Putting SWP on the pitch at 4-1 down with only 3 minutes of the game remaining was entirely pointless. Have you heard of Peter Crouch Don Fabio? For £6million a year, I’m sorry, but the manager should have to call a press conference and explain his tactics and the thoughts behind each substitution he makes, after the half-time teamtalk, 2nd half substitutions are how a manager earns their salt.

What was almost as disappointing as the result was the fact that the England players lacked grit and spirit in the second half. The crown kept going throughout the game, even at 87 minutes at 4-1 down the Germans were completely out-sung. At the final whistle, the players traipsed down the tunnel without a word of thanks for the 8000 kilomenters we had travelled by plane and the 3000k by car. Our World Cup dream was over.

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Thurs 24th – Sat 26th

Internet access in South Africa isn’t the most readily available so in between the driving we have had to skip a few days of blog. Following the win against Slovenia we spent a day at our accommodation – the Kwantu Game Reserve. Having supposed to be staying in a tented dormitory we were kindly upgraded to the hotel where the rooms were supposed to be around £100 a night instead of the £11 we had paid for. The service and welcome of the staff was amazing. We saw some lion cubs, took a trip round the ‘Predator Camp’ and then went on a Safari in search of the Big Five…

The following day we took in some stunning scenery at the Ado Elephant Park and then headed to the Fans Park in St Georges Cricket ground, Port Elizabeth to catch Brazil Vs Portugal and Spain Vs Chile. We didn’t catch much of the latter game, as after a few beers we got involved with a 4-a-side winner stays on game of footy in the corner of the fans park.

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On Saturday we headed into PE and managed to get tickets for South Korea Vs Uruguay a fixture that ended with a spectacular winner for the South Americans in the pouring rain. After the game we set off on our 7 hour drive to Bloemfontein, arriving at our campsite around 3am in time to catch some sleep before the showdown with the Germans…

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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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Tues 22nd: South Africa Vs France

Lets face it, everyone likes to see the French loose.

After some ‘expert’ navigational skills by Joyces we made it onto the N3 motorway and began our trip to PE. The scenery was pretty stunning early on. Fields of golden brown knee height grass, miles of dead straight roads and delicious sunshine. Roadworks in SA are a bit of an oddity. They were replacing long sections of the motorway at a time. The N3 was mainly a single carriage road so the roadworks involved 10-15 minutes of waiting by a man with a stop sign. During the first wait, not a single car from the other direction passed our way. We had a football in the boot and played keepy uppy with a South African chap. He would be watching the game today, he keen to see Bafana Bafana put a good performance in.

After about 400k the terrain became more rugged as we made our decent down towards sea level (Free State and Gueteng provinces are on a large flat shelf with an altitude of 2000+ meters. Joycey took over the wheels having recovered from his hangover (he tucked into some ‘French’ vodka whilst back at the guesthouse the night before). DBR took over map reading duties.

‘BABOON! I’ve just seen a *King Baboon…’ Nedwards interrups an rare moment of silence between football talk and tunes. Our first sight of roaming wild animals.

After passing several roadkills, (two of which could be attributed to us) and a rather nasty looking car accident (apparently 10’000 people die every year in SA road accidents) DBR contributed his stroke of map reading genious. Thinking that roads with a green outline indicated a ‘scenic route’ we were diverted down a non-tarmac road (as the map key would have told him). As the quality of the road detiorated we found ourselves driving through some rather bleak mountain townships and rural areas. Some of the higher hills were topped with snow… Stick or twist. Do we carry on or drive back to the safety of the tarmac or go for broke as we had already travelling 15k down the dirt road? We should have gone with Nedwards choice to stick. Twisting resulted in a two hour odd detour which meant we wouldnt get to Port Elizabeth in time to watch the South Africa game.

FOTOS TO FOLLOW

Nevermind. We stopped in a town called Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape, South Africa. We got some fried chicken and found a local bar to watch the game. Having just bought our Bafana Bafana kits we were welcomed with open arms by the locals. South Africa made a good start to the game, putting France under pressure and deservedly went ahead. Several fans in the bar had Vuvuzella’s which added to the atmosphere. On the TV back home and as a collective the Zellas are very much an annoyance but the sound is different when played one at a time. A lad called Mikardo passed us his Vuvuzella, I had no idea how to play one. There is actually a technique to getting a sound out of one, only Nedwards managed it go begin with. The atmosphere improved with South Africa’s second goal, there seemed to be belief in the bar that they could not only beat France but secure the 3 goal margin which would give them the goal difference to qualify. When a third goal went in the bar erupted. Unfotunatley the celebrations were caught short when the goal was ruled offside. On the stroke of half time, the footbally commentry was switched off and the DJ fired up some tunes. Immediately everyone in the bar jumped up and started dancing. It was like a carnival. No mundane football pundits to pour over the first half chances. Strangly, although their qualification relied on the result in the other group game, none of the fans seemed to be much worried about the score in that game, they were just enjoying the moment.

France picked up in the second half and managed to get a goal back, without ever actually looking convinced that they could get back into the game. So far in this world cup, the sound of the Vuvuzella has overpowered most of the chants you can hear on TV. There was no singing in the bar in the first half. Out of pretty much no-where, the Bafana Bafana around us starting singing. I’m not sure what language it was (SA has 12 official languages) but  I have never heard anything like it watching football. An amazing sound, totally in tune and in time. I have no idea why this wasn’t present in the first half – if your fans can sing like that, the Vuvuzella should certainly be banned…

After the game we stayed for some beers with the locals. I had given Mikardo my England pin badge and he wanted us to stay for a beer. I got the feeling that most of the locals knew everyone in the bar. Several of the people wanted pictures with us. Mikardo said that he appreciated us coming into the bar and engagin with the locals. He said that we were the first white people to come into the bar and sit and drink with them. Later he told me that he had only ever really had a proper conversation with one other white person, a lady from his work at the local government. What stuck me, was that before speaking to us, a lot of the locals thought we were white South Africans, so the welcome we had receive had been the same as whether white South Africans or English football fans. There was no resentment, depsite the countrys history.

Mikardo introduced us all by name to his friends and fionce. We were invited back to their house for some dinner but unfortunaly had to continue with our journey. We missed the evening game as we drove to PE but were glad of the diversion and an experience that won’t be forgotten…

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Monday 21st June: Jo’burg to Bloemfontein

Our morning flight arrived in Addis Ababa about 8am. Having left Heathrow about two hours late we arrived about 10mins before our connecting flights to Jo’burg was scheduled to leave. Thankfully that flight was delayed as well. Booking with the world renown Ethiopian airlines saved us around 350GPB but didn’t come without it’s worries:

The Guardian – “26 Jan 2010 Lebanese minister says plane that went down in a storm, killing 90, suddenly turned in the opposite direction from the suggested path.”

In all fairness the flight wasn’t bad. From the air Addis Ababa looked far greener than expected.We had arrived in Africa, but had another 5 hour flight to Jo-burg.

Jo’burg airport seemed pleasant enough. They country has definitely made the effort for the World Cup – plenty of smiley people to greet and give out guides. After sorting our hire car (Nissan Livina) we made our way down to our accommodation in Bloemfontein. After a bit of a detour around the suburbs of Jo’burg whilst attempting to get on the elusive N1 motorway we made good progress down to our accommodation. Kilometers seem to pass a lot quicker than miles, especially as the roads seems to be good quality. Arriving at our ‘Close to Preller’ guesthouse we received our keys from two young South African chaps who were keen to chat about the football. Initial feeling is that everyone is both excited and proud that SA is hosting the World Cup. They were confident that SA could beat France in the following days game but not so confident they would get the goal difference needed to get them through to the last 16… Most important was the need to go out with a bang if qualification wasn’t achieved.

After ditching our gear we headed out for some food and a beer. Bloemfontein seemed eerily quite for a town that was hosting a World Cup game the next day – we decided to blame this on the French and their well renown lack of travelling support. Getting a beer was an odd experience. The bar felt like a 1950s American pool house. The first sight upon entrance was a rather drunk, angry looking barmen wrestling a pool cue away from an even more drunken punter. A woman, looking twice as drunk as both of the two men was sat on the floor doing nothing apart from looking suspiciously like a crack-heed. In fact I don’t think I have seen a bigger collection of reprobates in a pub for a long time – some Algerian fans entered at one point, took one walk round and decided to make a speedy exit. Anyway, the football highlights were showing so after a couple of Carling Black Label’s and watching Portugal demolish Korea 7-0 we headed back for a kip…