Ely-based author and journalist Chris Hunt is travelling around Germany covering the 2006 World Cup. Read his daily thoughts on the tournaments here, or at ChrisHunt.biz. His book ‘World Cup Stories: The History Of The FIFA World Cup’ accompanies the BBC television series and is published by Interact and can be purchased on Amazon.
Friday June 16: Day 8
An Englishman walks into a bar and says, “Have you got any Desperados?” The barkeeper shakes his head and suggests a selection of the finest locally brewed beers that the city of Cologne has to offer. “Is that German beer?” asks the England fan with disdain. He turns to his mates, “They’ve only got German beer. Is that alright?” With a reluctant sigh he turns back to the barkeeper. “Okay,” he says, “we’ll take five.”
While some England fans are using the World Cup as a cultural learning curve, the vast majority of the estimated 70,000 travelling fans get off the train at the Hauptbahnhof and head straight for the nearest Irish bar. They’re here to watch football and drink – and that’s about the long and the short of it. At the European Championships in Portugal the English came very close to drinking Lisbon dry, and although they’ve set their sights on breaking this record in 2006, they may have seriously underestimated the sheer volume of beer that is to be had in Germany. Still, they’ll give it a go. That’s another five beers please Fritz!
Saturday June 17: Day 9
Tonight, before the Italy-USA game there is a minute’s silence at the Fritz-Walter-Stadion in Kaiserslautern to celebrate the memory of the captain of West Germany’s World Cup winning team of 1954, after whom the stadium in named. The man himself may have died four years ago, but such is his iconic status at his hometown club that a show of respect is called for. But with typical German efficiency, although the multi-lingual explanation to the crowd lasts nearly three minutes, the minute’s silence itself is finished in less than 15 seconds, thereby setting a new German record.
The game is a rough and tumble affair, with the Americans mixing it from the start. Desperate for a result they throw themselves into a series of heavy tackles. The Italians retaliate as best they can – they elbow, hurl themselves to the floor, and by the time the game has reached its course, three players have been dispatched from the pitch.
On the way out of the ground US fans perform their own improvised tribute to “the Italian dive team”, rolling around on the stadium floor, clutching at their legs and screaming in mock pain. Unfortunately they seem a little too pleased with themselves and, by taking a point off Italy, they seem to think the hard work is done. Perhaps they didn’t see their final opponents Ghana annihilating the Czech Republic earlier in the day. If they had have done, the mood surely would have been more sombre. For all the jokes at the expense of Italy’s amateur dramatics, Team USA and their supporters will be on a plane back to the States before the week’s end.
Sunday June 18: Day 10
It has a busy month in Pascha, the seven-story club that styles itself as the “Grösstes Laufthaus in Europe”, Europe’s largest brothel. There is no doubt that the establishment has been actively touting for World Cup trade for months. In advance of the tournament they draped a 78ft banner down the side of the building in pastiche of the World Cup slogan, ‘The world makes friends’. Over the image of a scantily clad blonde, surrounded by the flags of the 32 competing nations, the club boasted ‘Die Welt zu Gast bei Freundinnin’… the world makes girlfriends.
Situated, aptly enough, on Hornstrasse, Pascha and its near neighbour Das Bordel stand like glowing neon beacons in this dimly lit industrial estate. Outside stand dozens of taxis and, although it’s nearly 3am, there are several large groups of lads hanging around, plucking up the courage to make the entrance. This is the shadier side of the World Cup – no face painting and flag waving here, although horn blowing definitely remains on the agenda if you have the cash for it.
It’s like the law of the stag here, but in football shirts – and what goes on tour stays on tour. Wandering aimlessly along the dimly lit corridors are packs of drunken football fans, mainly English today as their big match is coming up soon, although there are Brazilians too. Girls sit on bar stalls in the doorways to their rooms and vie with each other to catch the attention of the passing trade. There’s a rumour that the floors are themed with girls from the different competing nations, but this proves to be untrue. Several of the England fans are still carrying their beer glasses, while timewasters, egged on by their mates, spend far too much time trying to haggle over the 50 Euro price for the 20 minute slot on offer. The girls don’t seem to mind the crowded corridors when it’s those with cash in their pockets and a desire to spend it, but even the five Euro entry charge hasn’t deterred all of the tourists and sightseers who hover in the narrow hallways and wave their drinks in the air for bravado.
They’ll need all their bravado the higher they get in Pascha. “What floor is this?” asks one fan as he heads up the stairs. “Six? Good – no further.” Even among these World Cup tourists there seems to be an understanding that the seventh floors is the home of the transsexuals – and that’s to avoided at all costs, except by the very, very drunk!
Monday June 19: Day 11
In the Altstadt in Cologne a trader is selling football merchandise from out of a large sports bag. “Want a ‘No Surrender’ T-shirt lads?” asks the guy, draping an example over his arm. We decline, but he goes for broke with the hard sell. “It’s got Winston Churchill on the back.”
Watching England away has, over the years, become a bit like going to Glastonbury. Something that started out so small has grown out of all proportion and it has spawned its own supporting cottage industry. An army of independent traders, straight out of ‘Only Fools And Horses’, now follow England fans where ever they go, knocking out low-quality badges, T-shirts and scarves tailored to each event or match. But it’s not your traditional quilted jester hats that are on offer, or a quick do-it-yourself, flag-of-St-George, face-painting kit – this is where you can finally get your hands on that ‘Ten German Bombers’ T-shirt that you’ve been after. And if plastic Nazi storm trooper helmets really aren’t your bag, no fear – the next trader will be offering the replica English Tommy version, just like your great-granddaddy wore. Want to get one? They’re easier to find than Top Shop – ask directions to the nearest Irish pub and follow the noise. Just don’t ask them for a receipt.
Tuesday June 20: Day 12
In a crowded sports bar in Cologne, in front of a dozen widescreen televisions, I sit with a large crowd of rowdy Germans, some polite Swedes, a handful of under whelmed English, and the odd sombrero-wearing Mexican. We join each other for just 90 minutes, united by the World Cup as the host nation batter Ecuador into submission. And, strangely, I find myself rooting for Germany. So unusual is this sensation that, for the duration of just one game at least, it is as if the world had turned upside down. This change of allegiance hasn’t been caused by some shirt-swapping love of the beautiful game, or out of courtesy towards mein hosts – it is out of pure and unadulterated self-interest. The way England have been playing, I’d much rather see the team’s defensive frailties put under scrutiny by Ecuador in the next round than have to face the blitzkrieg attack of the Germans. So for one match only, Come On You Deutschland!
Just a few hours later England are given the chance to have their defence examined at length by the Swedes – and they fail the test abjectly. Late in the game Frank Lampard looks bewildered after Steven Gerrard is brought on as a substitute, throwing the England bench a questioning gesture that implies he has no idea what the coach wants him to do, but he is not as confused by Sven’s tactics as we are on the terraces.
Although England may have failed to beat the Swedes on the pitch tonight, as we have failed to do for the last 38 years, at least we are safe in the knowledge that we can obliterate them off it with our razor sharp football wit and our cutting terrace humour. On the crowded tram heading towards the Altstadt after the game, the England fans raise their voices with a rendition of that old faithful, ‘I’d rather be a turnip than a Swede’. For once, though, the English are left completely at a loss for words when the Swedes retaliate with, ‘Go home with your ugly girls’. And it seems they don’t want Sven-Göran Eriksson back either. For just a few minutes, while the laughter rings round the tram, the memory of Michael Owen being stretchered out of his third World Cup is forgotten. By tomorrow the only remaining recollection of tonight’s pitiful perfomance will be of Joe Cole’s sublime goal and all thoughts will turn to the match with Ecuador in Stuttgart on Sunday.
Wednesday June 21: Day 13
For the second day running I find myself in a parallel universe where the partisan loyalties instilled into my countrymen at birth have been turned on their heads. Seated high up in the Waldstadion in Frankfurt, I am rooting for the modern-day arch-enemy of every true-born Englishman: the cheating, diving, handballing Argies. It’s a hard decision to take when they are lining up against the beautiful orange-coloured football of the Dutch, but in this tournament Argentina have looked by far the most frightening team yet. They have attacked with speed and verve, bringing players off the bench who could surely walk into any England team but for an accident of birth.
In the crowd I find myself talking to an Argentine from Barcelona. He has followed his team to every World Cup since 1994 and he smiles when I when I say that I’d rather meet Argentina in the final than the quarter-final. “We don’t want to meet England in the quarter-finals either,” he says. “I will be much happier if we have to play against Germany.”
From the kick-off the Argentina fans make a thunderous noise, swinging their scarves around their heads as they relentlessly chant to the pounding beat of a quartet of drums. “Vamos, vamos Argentina, Vamó a gana,” they cry, “Yo te sigo a todas partes adonde vas, cada vez te quiero más.” It sound intimidating in the stadium, but it’s the kind of love letter to their country that the English, with their ‘Ten German Bombers’, really aren’t capable of delivering. Can you imagine the Burberry Brigade chanting “I will follow you where ever you go, Every day I love you more”? It just wouldn’t happen.
Thursday June 22: Day 14
At the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund the Japanese have turned out in large numbers for their game against Brazil. So revered in Japan are the Brazilians that this really is as good as a World Cup final for the excitable Nippon army. With the shrill screaming of their fans, it’s like Beatlemania hitting Tokyo all over again, but unlike the Americans, who earlier today earned an early trip home with just one point to show for their troubles, the Japanese have absorbed the best of worldwide football culture, throwing themselves completely into the traditions of the sport. While the Americans continue to try and impose their own terminology and cultural references on a sport that the rest of the world calls football, the Japanese have learnt to adopt the posturing that makes the game such an enthralling and intimidating spectacle live. Just in case it gets a bit tasty in the old town after the game, they have brought their own ‘firm’ with them, if the Ultras’Nippon banner is to be believed. And they have learnt to chant like real football fans too – they chant like the English, like the Italians, and like the South Americans, although their “Vamos Nippon Nippon Nippon, Vamos Nippon” wasn’t rendered with quite the heartfelt passion offered by the Argentinans the night before.
Although a comprehensive defeat means this is the last we will see of Japan in this tournament, we may have to thank them for their early goal that delivered a much-needed wake-up call for the Brazilians. Although the World Cup is bigger than any one nation, the competition is always much more exciting for the colour and flair that Brazil are capable of bringing to it. This year we haven’t seen it yet, but, as the pundits would say, it’s early doors.