Thursday, 10 September 2009

A Beautiful Game

Almost two years ago I took the boys to Wembley to see their first ever England game. Bill had a plaster cast on his wrist, Stanley was just 6 years old and coped brilliantly with being in the middle of nearly 90,000 people. In fact he loved being amongst such a big crowd.

On a rain soaked night, we saw a thrilling but disastrous match that saw us lose 3-2 to Croatia and get knocked out of the Euros. The boys were desperately disappointed but as someone turned round and said to them that night: "You'll never see England play so badly as that."

And tonight, revenge. Sweet revenge.

A beautiful, warm, clear September night. A full house. Great expectations...

And within 8 minutes, we were cheering our first goal. A penalty - at our end of the pitch. 1-0. Joy. And relief.

But because we're England fans... we know not to be too confident.

"We need another goal" Bill said, almost immediately.

Soon enough... we got one. 2-0.

We taunt the 6,000 Croatian fans who almost matched the volume of the massive home support: "You're not singing... You're not singing... You're not singing any more!"

Then... can it be true? Yes!


The English chants became mischievous.

"Who are ya? Who are ya?" I see Stanley's arm mimmicking those (including me) around him.


"Are you Scotland? Are you Scotland? Are you Scotland in disguise?"

4-1. Oops...

Eduardo (the scorer) has been booed mercilessly throughout. (He's recently been labelled a 'diver.') His status changes - now we're cross with him. He's taken the edge of our party.

But then... one of those rare moments of poetry that football throws up sometimes...

A Croatian fan breaks through the security cordon and is on the pitch!

What's he going to do?

Attack an England player?

Assault the ref?

No - he runs straight to Eduardo in the centre circle....

And gives him a great big hug.

It's a tender moment of love and reassurance. Those Croatians - they're such fond and gentle creatures.

This overt demonstration of emotion is too much for us English.

Fortunately - it's too much for the Croatian goalie as well who sort of passes the ball straight to Rooney who's very happy to pass it back to him, well - to put it neatly into the big net behind him. Goal.


5-1? Suddenly we're relaxing again and wave goodbye to the Croatian fans:

"Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio! Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio-oh!"

We English are so quaint. And football fans are wittier than they're given credit for.

We Mexican wave; booing the Croatian fans who stoutly refuse to join in.

And then, after the brief thrill of Beckham's appearance as a sub (and the subsequent anti-climax of realising he's really not got it any more)... the final whistle.

We're through to the World Cup Finals in South Africa. With SO much time to spare!

And on our way out of the stadium - a picture you don't hear described much: thousands of Croatian fans and English fans mingle, happily, playfully....

English fans clapping the Croatian fans. Patting them on the back. And envying the shapes and number of Croatian girlfriends who seem to have come along. (No obvious obesity issues in Croatia.)

Six matches in, me and the boys use our secret route out of Wembley to the tube station and safely as usual, make our way home.

The Smith boys are not overwhelmed... by the numbers or the occasion.

And it may have taken an Italian manager but at last we have a football team to be proud of.

And today at least, on this September 9th, it feels good to be English.

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