Mark Steel: Of the 963 Uruguayans in Britain, none share my view of Suarez's handball

Fan's Eye View
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The Independent Football

To be honest I'd gone off Uruguayans. I was so outraged when they avoided defeat to Ghana with a blatant handball on the goalline, I considered organising an international boycott of Fray Bentos, which is apparently based there, under the slogan: "Die die, Uruguay, we won't eat your cheating pie."

This meant the best place to support Holland against them in the semi-final would be a place packed with Uruguayans, which wasn't easy to find, as there are only 963 in the whole of Britain. So I asked the embassy, who directed me to Aragon House in Fulham, the sort of gastro pub they have features about in Sunday magazines, and downstairs were around 100 Uruguayans. How did this place get to be the agreed venue for people watching Uruguay? Did someone go on "Dragon's Den" and make a pitch that started "Up until now London's Uruguayans have had nowhere to watch their national team together. But not to worry. This is a gap in the market that, with your backing, we aim to fill."

This was certainly one of the best turned out crowds of Uruguayans I'd ever come across, with unfeasibly pressed shirts tucked into proper trousers held up by proper belts, looking like guests at the start of a wedding reception, when the ties have come off but everyone's still sober. And while they were too pristine to chant or grunt guttural football noises, they were South American enough to wave arms and clap and sing with a lack of inhibitions the English middle class would need 20 years of counselling to achieve.

And when their star player Forlan equalised they shrieked and hugged with Uruguayan abandon, especially Julio who jumped two footed into the air and said "I am very happy, but this is not good for my heart wahahahoo." I asked how he'd come to be in London. "I am the defence attaché," he said, "And this is my friend, the Chilean defence attaché."

I considered getting into an argument with these two about the handball against Ghana, in the hope it got to the point where I could say "Oh yeah, you and whose army?" But instead I had that debate with Pablo, an architect. The problem, he said, was the British press was so horribly biased. This is, of course, a common complaint, that our press has traditionally been sickeningly anti-Uruguayan and fawningly pro-Ghana for years. And whenever there's a handball on the line they always take the side of the team that didn't do it, and never the side of the ones who did it, which is so biased against the handballing community.

Pablo's partner is Lindsey, who works for Country Life, and when they spotted someone they knew, it turned out to be the ambassador, whose house they'd recently attended for a dinner party. This was the most civilised football crowd there has ever been. I thought "If Holland score a second goal, instead of a groan they'll all go, 'Oh bum, piff and tiddle. Such defensive incompetence calls for a cocktail.'"

But when Holland did score there was the familiar sound of a crowd watching its country go behind, a collective gasp, a lone shriek and a deflated "eeugh" like the sound a computer makes when you turn it off because the screen's frozen.

There could be many reasons why even the better off Uruguayans appear so amiably expressive and animated. It could be the identification with a nation formed in battles inspired by the French Revolution. Or that the country's day of national pride seems to have been their World Cup victory in 1930. "My grandfather often told me about that day," said Pablo, the way someone might talk about VE day.

Or it could be that even the middle class face uncertainty; Pablo came here in 2000 when the Uruguayan economy collapsed. Or it might be driven by their frustration with Argentina, their neighbour with a population of 40 million compared to their own of three million, and who they feel look down on them. Pablo told me that before Argentina played Germany, Maradona was asked what he thought of Uruguay's progress in the cup, and said "Uruguay? I didn't know they were IN the World Cup." So when they lost to Germany all Uruguay cheered, including the President, who then had to make an official apology.

Pablo also explained the Uruguayan role in the Battle of River Plate, and the reasons why the Uruguayan tango is far superior to the Argentinian one, until I was almost won over to the Uruguayan cause, and slightly annoyed that the referee hadn't let them pick the ball up and gently place it in the back of the Dutch goal.

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