The World Cup fate of plucky underdogs England came down to a 90 minute showdown against the mighty Slovenians. We travelled in hope more than expectation, and boy did we travel.
England weren’t underestimating their opponents in Port Elizabeth but we were wildly under-estimating the journey to get there. After 764k of pedal to the metal driving, dodging the death-wish baboons and death-defying truckers we arrived in Port Elizabeth with 4 hours to go.
We caught up on the English papers who as usual were full of soap opera nonsense, gossip and innuendo and overblown celebrities mouthing off, unfortunately this was merely the build up to the match. It seemed the whole of English football had come down to this one game.
The locals told us the Port Elizabeth stadium was known as the Sunflower and we approached on the Park and Ride bus the arena did look amazing, drenched in sunshine and surrounded by colourful fans.
In a break with convention the stadium had women only turnstiles while the best and worst of English manhood crammed to get through the rest of the gates singing a mixture of defiant songs like ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ and the new tournament classic ‘We’re shit and we know we are’.
Once inside we realised we were three rows behind the Slovenian dug out and texted the office with our co-ordinates. Apparently a minute later the camera panned across the bench and Tom saw Steve in his red England shirt and a man with an enormous red and white comedy afro obscuring me. Disappointingly we were surrounded by empty seats which given the distances we’d covered to be here wasn’t that surprising.
The game kicked off and we started brightly. I’m sure you all watched all tense 90 minutes of it but here are some insights you only get from being inside the stadium. Visa’s adverts feature a fan from each country. England’s fan is a thick skinhead with a red Mohican.
It appeared Stuart Pearce was wearing his lucky shorts from Italia 90 but had put on a bit of weight since. And he was wearing shin-pads. Did he think he should be playing?
Fabio Capello is much shorter than you think and jumps up and down screaming like a martinet. Watch this (and apologies for Fabio’s language in advance).
Most of the England fans were polite, well-behaved and full of good humour. The £1,500 price tag to get there meant it seemed more like Twickenham than Wembley. The downside was the attendance was 36,000, which meant there were 12,000 empty seats.
We did win of course and when the whistle went we were top of the group and all our hopes and dreams were about to be fulfilled. Then the USA scored and we were given the rock-face route to glory rather than the cable car.
At least we’ll be up for the Germany game, but we’ll have to completely change our travel plans as they had previously been worked out on the ludicrous assumption that England would top the group. Everyone was wanting to know where Bloemfontein was and whether anyone knew any Americans they could swap tickets with.
We had sung our hearts out and supported out boys in full. Back on the Park and Ride bus the English fans were quiet and subdued but we did experience the weird sensation of being berated by Slovenians for not joining in their English victory songs. We knew we were probably playing Germany, then Argentina, then Spain, then Brazil. We need a miracle but then so did Slovakia. Who knows what will happen next?