Knights and nuns of the far-flung shires drink the stadium dry
Thursday 24 June 2010
It was the minimum that was required but it was more than enough for England fans who had made their way to Port Elizabeth. All around the stadium provincial banners were draped: Yeovil, Wycombe and Scunthorpe had come in hope more than expectation.
Despite the tension reported before this match between fans and players the customary roar was given to England as they came out to warm up. In the crowd, which was overwhelmingly English, knights sat with grown men dressed in wigs and bras – watching England requires a sense of humour.
Outside the ground the supporters had already shown England's extraordinary capacity for drink. Inebriated supporters were helped into ambulances, and other fans, their faces as red as their shirts, traded boasts over how drunk they were.
Once the action was under way an early goal gave relief for the accumulated tension.
Joanna Roach who had travelled from Scunthorpe to her first England game, screamed herself hoarse in the stands. "This is what I came for. We're going to the semi-finals."
Three small pockets of Slovenes did their best to answer the army of St George. Throughout the first half they stayed on their feet chanting and waving flags. For almost the first time at this World Cup there were practically no neutrals inside the stadium. The vuvuzelas and hordes in green and gold who have been such a feature of the finals so far had finally gone. The wailing of horns gave way to the usual back catalogue of England chants.
England's miserable showing before yesterday had done little to dampen the enthusiasm. Paul Bennun, freshly arrived from London, said: "We're going to win this. I've come a long way to see this. It's only Slovenia. Surely we've got to win."
The early optimism gave way in the second half to complacency both from fans and players. With alcohol freely on sale the stadium came to resemble an English beer garden. Officials at the stadium said that this was the first time that bars at the ground had been drunk dry. The comfort zone disappeared late in the game as it seemed to dawn on England's followers that a single goal from Slovenia would send them home earlier than expected. Many of the fans already had tickets for the knockout stages and were speculating amongst each other whether England would play next in Bloemfontein or Rustenberg.
With the US seemingly drawing a blank against Algeria England seemed set to win the group. Only the increasing agitation of Fabio Capello in the technical area hinted that all was not well. Supporters sporadically called out for Joe Cole to be sent on, which eventually he was. England finished the game wasting time in the corners as the supporters chanted their relief.
Outside the stadium a modest performance had done little to humble England supporters who passed their time by jeering their opponents, calling out: "Bye bye Slovenia."
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