Grassroots Coaching

Watching England play in the World Cup

I am sure we have all equally enjoyed and endured watching England play in this World Cup. As have fans of other countries. I was very fortunate to watch England play Colombia in the final group game in the 1998 World Cup in France.

A day before Englands final group G game taking place on June 28 1998, my eldest brother Jim called me and invited me to go along with him and his two sons to watch the game.  It was a brief conversation, with me saying “yes please” and to arrange a meeting place on the M20 at a service station just before the channel tunnel. A short trip in the car via the channel tunnel, an hours drive to Lens, where the match was taking place. Who can turn down an offer like that?

Off we set, no problems, straight through to France. The car is full of excited chatter. It was the final group game and like in this World Cup, we needed to win to qualify for the next phase. England had been beaten by Romania 2 – 1 in the second group match and just like this year, there were lots of question marks against the team, the manager and the players.

The match was a 21.00pm kick off and we had plenty of time. As we were driving through France, I casually mentioned to brother Jim how he had got the tickets. Jim shot me a glance and inclined his head towards the back seat where the boys were sat.

“I don’t actually have them…yet” he whispered, “but I don’t want the boys to know”

“That’s alright then Jim, I’m sure that with over 60,000 England fans in Northern France and a stadium capacity of 38,000 there will be no problems at all” I sarcastically reply.

“Don’t worry. A mate knows a guy, I have his number and he says he can get us the tickets”

“Have you actually spoken to this ticket tout” I ask.

“No” he admits, “but I have left him a couple of messages”

So there we are. Driving towards our Hotel in Lille, waiting to hear back from the ticket tout to see if we have any tickets for the game. The silence is deafening in the car.

As we drive through Lille, we get caught in some traffic. As we are stationary, I hear the familiar chant of Engerland, Engerland. We look to our left, to see maybe 50 England fans, all looked a bit worse for wear, many of them showing off their finely honed, bare torsos and tattoos! Englands finest.  Facing them was maybe 100 French riot police. Lined up, helmets and full riot gear on. All hitting their shields with their 3 foot long truncheons. All of a sudden, the England fans charged. “They have got be mad” I say to Jim. “They are going to get slaughtered” But, as the England fans got closer to the riot police, the police broke ranks, turned and retreated very rapidly. The retreat seemed too much for many of the England fans, they didn’t or couldn’t follow. The police regrouped 200 yards down the road and the England fans went back to the bar. I’m not sure if it was a police tactic or they just didn’t fancy it that much, but it seemed to work.

We arrive at the Hotel. Jim phones the guy and leaves a tenth message. It is now lunchtime and we are all getting a bit twitchy about the tickets. The hotel is packed with England fans, all it seems without tickets and ears glued to mobile phones. It isn’t looking too good.

Finally, about 4.00 pm Jims phone rings. It is the tout. He has the tickets. Jim has the money…and a lot is required. A meeting place and time are arranged in the hotel.  The meeting time of 5.00pm comes and goes. The guy isn’t answering his phone. 5.30 no sign, no sign, 6.00pm no sign. Lens is 30 minutes drive away normally, but today isn’t a normal day. Kick off is 9.00 pm. Finally, a big, beefy, bald guy walks in the hotel. I have no idea what made me think he might be the tout, maybe some instinct!!

Jim strolls up to him, they disappear round the corner and Jim walks back in with a smile. The deal has been done. We have the tickets.

The match was fantastic, even if we had to split up and sit in different parts of the stadium. Anderton and Beckham made the match safe within 30 minutes. England passed the ball around and looked very comfortable. But the over riding memory, were the England band playing and the England fans dancing and singing all the way through the second half. It was a carnival of fun, hope and belief.

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