"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
I find my self back in my little room in Nottingham waiting for the final show of the week, having seen England fail to progress in the Cricket World Cup and, at the same time, easily beat Wales in the European Qualifiers. Not the same team, of course. That would have been interesting. "And Wayne Rooney comes in to bat, with England on 12 for 9, a dismal display by the national side. He takes guard and .... oh my word, he's headed that bouncer! Thank goodness he wasn't wearing a helmet. That ball could have done some serious damage to his kit but has only slightly bruised his skull, so no damage done there. And he's given out LBW second ball. The entire team run on to the pitch and surround the umpire. John Terry is clearly seen to mouth the words, 'You've got to be fucking joking, ref.?'. And so England's dismal involvement in the Cricket World Cup comes to an ignominious, but fitting, end."
I'm less and less concerned about the results when it comes to England. All the really interesting sporting experiences I've had over the last few years have been at events where England either didn't stand a chance or weren't even involved.
My family and I have been to several football tournaments; the World Cup in France and the European Finals in Portugal; and to a number of Athletics meets, The World Athletics Finals in Berlin (sadly, I missed that one but the rest of them went) and the European Finals in Barcelona. At the football tournaments, particularly, we went out of our way to avoid any game that involved the England football team and, as a result, had a brilliant time.
My favourite was Holland v. South Korea in Marseille where we were adopted by the Dutch fans and dressed from head to foot in orange as we walked from the car park to the stadium. Holland won 5-0 and each time they scored the electronic board would flash up the score followed by the word 'But!'. After the fourth goal I turned to my wife and said, "I can understand that they'd want to keep us interested but, honestly, there's no 'but' about it. Holland are definitely going to win.". My long suffering wife had to point out that, in French, the word for 'goal' is 'but'. So that's another word I know. I'm getting to grips with the language a word at a time. When I'm 180 I should be able to hold a reasonable conversation without making the basic mistakes that I always make with any foreign language. For example, did you know that when a waiter points to your lovely daughter and says she is 'tres jolie' you shouldn't reply, "Yes, I know, she's always laughing."?
Dutch fans are amazing, you know. They sing and chant all the time and seem to enjoy themselves whatever is happening on the pitch. Then again, I can't speak Dutch so maybe they are chanting, "Keep smiling so the foreigners think we're happy, even though our team are crap and we're going to riot later." or something like that expect pithy. If you really want to enjoy a football match, I recommend that you go to an international between two countries you are completely uninvolved with. You get swept up by the enthusiasm of the fans around you, enjoy the competition on the pitch, but never get that awful jingoistic fervor that can sweep over you when watching your own national team. I'm not saying that they aren't nationalistic themselves, just that you are detached from it. The thing is a festival that you can observe, enjoy and walk away from.
Foreign supporters are just as enthusiastic as we are about their national team, often more so. In the Holland, Korea game, the Korean fans stood and waved tiny, paper national flags from the start of the game to the finish, despite the thrashing they were receiving. Chilean supporters are astonishing in their passion, "Chi chi chi, le le le, viva Chi-le, ole!" they chant at any opportunity. And the pride of the Latvian supporters, who stood outside the ground in Porto for a good hour, hugging each other and singing the Latvian National Anthem, just because they had drawn 0-0 with Germany, was a sight to be seen. In fact, a sight that I did see.
The poor Germans. What did they ever do to make the rest of Europe hold such a grudge against them? Well, obviously, there was the war thing, but that is a long time ago. I like the Germans. My dear neighbour is German and you couldn't meet a more pleasant man. However, it seems that we Europeans still have something against them. I once sat in a bar in Portugal, with supporters from all over Europe, to watch a game, involving Germany, on the tele. Two young Germans came in to the bar and sat quietly with a small beer in front of them. Suddenly a cry went up from a table of Dutch supporters, "Look, everyone! Germans!!". The whole bar turned to stare at these poor lads. Then, as one, they chanted "If you hate the fucking Germans clap your hands, if you hate the fucking Germans clap your hands ..." , on and on until the sad, sheepish Germans were driven from the bar. It was embarrassing and somewhat disturbing. And surprising. They had all sung in English. Are we the universal tongue of vitriol? I've always assumed that war in Europe was an impossibility in this modern age. Surely we are beyond that? If you had seen the genuine hatred in that bar you wouldn't be so sure. I'm certainly not, any more.
So, I started by trying to encourage you to go to sporting events involving other countries and have, surely, just put you off the idea, completely. Sorry. Bloody foreigners, eh? Coming over here and keeping our National Health Service running! Damn cheek!!
Anyway, it won't be long until the last show is done and I can jump in my car and drive home to see my family, a precious thing when you are on the road. Time to plant potatoes in the morning at the allotment before we all gather together for a lovely Sunday lunch with the last of the parsnips and leeks that I grew last year. The Third World War will seem a long way off once I am safely in the bosom of my family.
Next time you meet some Germans, give them a hug from me, won't you?