On 9th June 2006, at the start of the FIFA World Cup, the whole of England, it seemed, was gripped in a frenzy of misplaced patriotism that only the beautiful game appears able to achieve. The red Cross of St George was hanging from the bedroom windows of people who had no idea when St George’s day fell (April 23rd for those who still don’t know) and shopping centres and pubs were full of men wearing England football shirts that were slightly too small for them.
Expectations were high for England to win and there were two reasons for this. Firstly, we had a strong team that consisted of, to name but a few, Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard from Liverpool, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen from Manchester United, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole from Chelsea, and, of course the mighty David Beckham on loan from Real Madrid. The second reason for an English win was a bit more obtuse and required a certain amount of lateral thinking – 2006 was the fortieth anniversary of our spectacular they think it’s all over defeat of West Germany and we bloody well deserved to win.
In the pubs and clubs around the country people were buzzing with excitement. No one had any doubt that England was ready to win and that 2006 would be the year that their country brought the trophy back to the green and pleasant land where it belonged.
On 8th June 2006, the day before the tournament started, I was sitting in the Tesco parking lot, just off the ring road in Huntingdon, when I observed a white SUV, replete with England pennants fluttering in the wind, pull into one of the nearby disabled parking spaces. Despite the obvious lack of disabled stickers, the driver of the vehicle unhesitatingly came to a halt and turned off the engine.
I watched with fascination as the occupants of vehicle, who were far from disabled, shamelessly tumbled out of the vehicle in rapid succession. It was a family of five and first out was the driver who may or may not have been the father of the brood that followed him. His head was shorn of hair and a thick gold chain was draped around the roll of fat that was once his neck. He was wearing white track suit bottoms and a cheap spandex knock-off England shirt that was stretched tight across his beer belly, making it look like it was manufactured for someone half his size by an unknown Taiwanese orphan on minimum wage. Several chunky gold signet rings adorned his fingers and the gold watch on his left wrist glinted in the sunlight as he slammed the driver’s door shut.
Next out was his wife, stick-thin and dressed in the same apparel. She had an inferno of tattoos running up and down the length of her skinny arms that depicted, I could only assume, scenes of violent death and destruction. She was immediately followed by three boys, all under ten years of age, again dressed in matching England shirts, and looking like they were the result of some monstrous genetic experiment. As they scrambled out of the vehicle they were punching each other and shouting obscenities, and their names, judging by what they called each other, were Arseface, Twat and Wanker.
As the father locked the vehicle the family began to wander aimlessly over to the entrance of the superstore to buy, presumably, enough alcohol, cigarettes, junk food and lottery tickets to last them until the 9th of July.
I’ve never really been a fan of football. I’ve tried to like it but it’s never cast the same spell over me as it has with the millions of fans around the world who are held under its magical grip. I did once go to a football match with a friend of mine when I was a teenager living in Blackpool. My friend was a fanatical supporter of Blackpool and we went see them playing at Bloomfield Road in an important match against Preston North End. The match ended with Blackpool losing 2-1 and as we walked home I noticed that my friend was crying.
“What the matter?” I asked him.
“What do mean what’s the matter?” he blubbed angrily. “We lost, that’s what the matter is!”
“But, it was only a game,” I relied in all innocence.
Apparently, though, that was the wrong thing to say to a fanatical supporter of any team anywhere in the world. It was never a game to them – it was a primal struggle of dominance between two tribes, where life itself hung in the balance during those precious ninety minutes of play.
I once read that the supporters of the South American teams were the most fanatical in the world. During a match against the United States in the World Cup of 1994 the Columbian defender, Andrés Escobar, known as The Gentleman of Football, had the misfortune of scoring an own goal after the ball spiralled off his leg and went past his team’s keeper. Less than two weeks later Escobar was dead, having been shot 6 times by a crazed Columbian fan in a car park in his home town of Medellin as punishment for letting down his country. As the last bullet was fired Escobar’s murderer was heard to shout, “Goal!”
Despite the fact that I’ve never really been a fan of football, it didn’t stop the shallow side of me from accepting a part-time job as the resident cartoonist for Posh Monthly, the locally produced fanzine for Peterborough United. I was approached by the editor after he’d seen some of the comic strips I’d produced for an in-house magazine called The Eagle (not to be confused with the boys’ comic of the same name) at Wyton in Cambridgeshire. He wanted something similar to what I was currently working on, but with a footballing theme and specifically about the tense relationship between Peterborough United’s manager, Barry Fry and their trainer, Wayne Turner. The editor wanted a half-page comic strip every month and for that I would be paid £40 and two free tickets to the director’s box for every home match.
It was easy money, and so, in a comic strip called Suited & Booted, I wrote and drew a series of increasingly bizarre and surreal storylines that featured Barry and Wayne arguing about nothing in particular.
|After they had been kidnapped by aliens, Barry and Wayne ended up stranded on a desert island|
Regardless of my lack of any real interest in football I decided to use the tickets and so every other Saturday I drove to London Road Stadium to watch twenty-two grown men kicking a ball to each other for ninety minutes or so.
To say that I was pleasantly surprised is a bit of an understatement. When I arrived in the director’s box there was free sandwiches and drinks available and when the match started the doors of the box were slid open and we all went outside to stand on the terraces and watch the match – and I loved it. It wasn’t so much the football that I enjoyed, more the constant torrent of abuse that was hurled at the referee and the opposing team by the fans stood around me.
Suited & Booted ran for two years, from 2000 – 2002, and it was a sad day when Wayne Turner left Peterborough United to join Stevenage Borough as it meant that my time had come to an end at Posh Monthly, but the World Cup was coming up and I had every intention of watching it, until the surge of false patriotism across the nation turned me off completely.
|The last Suited & Booted strip that appeared in Posh Monthly|
Four years later, as I watched the family trudge over to the Tesco superstore, I had every intention of reporting them for parking illegally, but something stopped me, and in that moment of clarity I realised that, through their behaviour, I had witnessed something rather special.
The journey of man has been a long and arduous one, and from the first time our distant ancestors crawled out of the primordial ooze to begin life on land we, as a species, have learned to stand on two legs, develop languages, manufacture tools, become enlightened and eventually reach for the stars. What I witnessed in the depressing greyness of the Tesco car park was something else, something different, a new species perhaps. Whoever that family were it was plainly obvious to me that their life journey had come to an end and, like sharks, they had reached the very pinnacle of their evolutionary development.
For good or bad, they were the perfect chavs.
It was penalties, that all too familiar Achilles heel of the England squad that knocked them out at the quarter final stage of the FIFA World Cup on the 1st July 2006. They lost 3-1 to Portugal and almost overnight the red and white flags of St George disappeared from the streets of our country.
The World Cup came to an end with the victorious Italian team leaving Germany with the trophy and, as evangelistic TV football commentators attempted to crawl up each others' trouser legs in order to refute the claims they had made at the start of the tournament, in the pubs and clubs around the country the same people that predicted a spectacular win for England were now declaring that they never had a chance of winning because they were rubbish.
Those part-time patriots, those scoundrels hiding behind the flags of their nation, were only prepared, it seemed, to accommodate winners.
“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.
Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)