'I'll have to ring the missus and get her to send me more money'

Reality kicks in for England's jubilant fans in Japan: they're running out of money and excuses for their bosses
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Less than 10 minutes into the second half the celebrations had already begun, and in the small city of Niigata they would continue until early this morning. England were 3-0 up; a brief but intense tropical downpour had passed, and long red-shirted congas were forming simultaneously at different points around the ground.

Less than 10 minutes into the second half the celebrations had already begun, and in the small city of Niigata they would continue until early this morning. England were 3-0 up; a brief but intense tropical downpour had passed, and long red-shirted congas were forming simultaneously at different points around the ground.

"Let's all have a disco! Let's all have a disco!" they chanted, although no one showed any sense of rhythm. Anxious Japanese policemen in orange raincoats began urging people to sit down, and over the public address system a synthetic voice made the same request. At this another chant started up, to the tune of "Knees Up, Mother Brown": "We're all sitting down!/ We're all sitting down!/ We're all sitting/ We're all sitting/ We're all sitting down!" But none of the singers – in fact nobody at England's end of the stadium – really was.

With the assurance of a decisive victory over Denmark came more practical thoughts, however. For many of the 7,000 England fans, this match itself was more than they had planned or budgeted for. The average supporter who came out for the three first-round games has spent £2,000 and taken two weeks off work. Many who were in Niigata yesterday were already stretching the goodwill of employers, families and bank managers back home.

"That's it, then," said one man, as Denmark fluffed yet another chance at a goal. "I'm just going to have to ring the missus and get her to send out more money."

"I already told my boss that I couldn't come back until Monday because I lost my passport," said Mark Rimmer, a trainee plumber from London. "What will I have to lose to stay out another week?"

And what if England's run was to extend beyond the quarter-finals? England supporters are well accustomed to defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. But last night there was a sense of expectations enlarging, slowly and cautiously, of habitual pessimists allowing themselves to imagine the unimaginable.

The excitement began on the bullet train from Tokyo, a two-hour zoom along a line drilled directly through the Japan Alps. From Tokyo station until Niigata, it was standing room only and although no one was writing off the Danes, they were not the adversaries that anyone had expected even a week ago. If Group A had gone according to expectations, it would have been France here yesterday. One man had even prepared an "Au Revoir, Frogs" T-shirt for the occasion, and showed it off as a redundant historical curiosity.

"This is the best chance we've had to win the World Cup since 1966," said Richard Radcliffe from Birmingham, and people shot him anxious glances, as if he'd said something tactless or unlucky.

As usual, the great mass of the England supporters – the quiet, well-behaved ones, whose chants consisted of the one word "Ingurando" – were Japanese, and for all their enthusiasm, it was they who seemed to have the more realistic perspective. "I tried for three days and nights on the internet to get a ticket for this game," said Masaharu Goto, "and it is great to be a part of these happy England supporters. Theirs is a very great team. But do they really think they can make it to the final?"

At this stage many of the travellers were most concerned about laying hands on tickets. A few had the smart cards which allow you to follow your team wherever it ends up playing, and give you a refund if they get knocked out before the final. But many were at the mercy of the touts ("Why are they always Mancunians or Scousers?" one woman asked) who were asking 80,000 yen (£450) and upwards.

I was offered cash for a colour photocopy of my journalist's pass. "You stick a chewing gum wrapper there, where the shiny hologram is," a logistics manager named John explained, "and that way they'll never notice it. We've got several mates in that way."

Paul from Leeds described another method of illegal entry. "You just all go through in a big group, act like you're a bit drunk, and they don't check all the tickets," he said. "They're very methodical, but they're not at all aggressive, and if you bum rush them, they can't handle it."

From the fans' point of view, the match was conveniently timed. The three goals – from Ferdinand, Owen and Heskey – were nicely spaced out through the first half. The second half was dominated by the gathering sense of confidence and imminent victory. With Brazil the likely opponents on Friday, nobody was counting any chickens. But it was nice to have a reason for being so short of money and so late back at work.

As another of the "Knees Up, Mother Brown" chants, the one sung most raucously in Niigata last night, put it: "We're not going home,/ We're not going home,/ We're not, We're not,/ We're not, We're not,/ We're not going home."

Comments