From the geriatric paradise of Baden-Baden, the spa town nestling on the edge of the Black Forest, a whole English World Cup odyssey was launched on 5 June. I witnessed the rise and fall of England, Sven Goran Eriksson and the WAGs at first hand. I saw Italy triumph and Zidane disgraced. These are the bits we didn't tell you at the time.
I stayed in the WAGs' Brenner's Park hotel too. Leaving the place in the evening was a similar experience to, I imagine, attending a D-list film premiere. The scattering of paparazzi and curious locals outside the front door were obliged to stand behind a makeshift barrier. They did nothing for my self-esteem. "He's no one important," I heard one kid mutter to his mate as I walked past.
The view was beautiful on the drive up through the hills to England's training ground in the village of Bühlertal and at the media centre was a little piece of Soho Square in the Black Forest. The Football Association had imported enough packets of Wotsits and Monster Munch to see us through to September if necessary. In the trees overlooking the pitch we spotted among the branches a man in camouflage with a camera filming training. Were the Paraguayan scouts really going to all that trouble?
England's shooting practice at Bühlertal. A female Japanese journalist looking the wrong way at the wrong time took a viciously struck football full in the face. "Next time," asked David James, "could you head it back?"
German TV pundits Part I. Christoph Daum must talk a good game because visually this man broke all the rules of television. The controversial former Fenerbahce manager clearly still yearns for the 1980s when German footballers had a style all of their own. He wore his hair in a dry centre-parting and favoured the Prussian army cavalry officer's moustache. To say nothing of the chilling stare that he fixed on the anchorman.
Security was tight around the stadiums. In Frankfurt before England played Paraguay they checked every car and no one was spared. I even spotted Bertie Vogts having to demonstrate to a policeman that it was genuinely a spare wheel he was carrying in his boot.
A decisive 4-0 victory for the Press team over the MPs side on the morning of the game in Frankfurt. Not even their élite coaching team of Kenny Dalglish, Lawrie McMenemy and Eric Harrison could swing it for them. Bitter recriminations later when we learned that Liberal Democrat MP John Leech (Manchester, Withington) had told his local newspaper that we were "unpleasant" and deliberately broke his toe. I'm still trying to remember a moment when he had the ball, although I do recall him being left on his backside by our accomplished centre-half Neil Ashton (Daily Mail). "Send us a postcard," joked Ashton over his shoulder to the grounded Parliamentarian.
Through the National Grid's sponsorship, we raised £10,000 for Geoff Thomas's leukaemia charity that day. Geoff is in the five-year remission from the disease and, playing for the MPs in midfield, he showed that you never lose real class.
German TV pundits Part II. Remember when Rudi Völler was Germany manager at the 2002 World Cup? He wore the permanent wince of a man who would rather he was elsewhere. Four years on and Rudi looked just as uncomfortable as Premiere network's main pundit, especially in an open-air Berlin studio with exuberant fans whooping in the background. The whole "World Cup fever" thing just isn't his bag, and the curly grey thinning hair made him look even more like Beethoven.
Spotted at last: the ineffective FA chairman Geoff Thompson wandering around the pitch in Munich before the Portugal v France semi-final. As usual, he has been invisible amid the fall-out from England's failure. This time he was there in his Fifa capacity. Let's hope he does a better job for them.
£95,000. That's the FA bonuses paid to the England players who played a role in the qualification for the 2006 World Cup and the five games in Germany. It breaks down to £70,000 for qualifying and winning Group B plus £25,000 for beating Ecuador. The non-playing members of the squad - Theo Walcott, Jermaine Jenas, Scot Carson etc - received £30,000.
Sat opposite a couple of WAGs in the hotel business centre. They were on the internet trying to find the Evening Standard's website to see if they had featured in the newspaper.
German TV pundits Part III. On RTL they "blacked up" a white presenter, gave him false teeth and a Brazil shirt - in order to look like Ronaldo. Aren't there laws against that kind of television?
Ida-Marie Vatn was the eye-catching blonde Norwegian television reporter for Norway's TV2 who made her name grabbing impromptu "exclusive" interviews with England players as they left the media centre in Bühlertal. Her reward for this maverick style of journalism? Nothing less than an offer of work from The Sun newspaper. Not reporting but, er, a "photoshoot". Ms Vatn politely declined.
American reporter to Owen Hargreaves after the Sweden match: "Hey, Owen, how does it feel to be playing against your team-mate Michael in the next round?" Hargreaves: "We've got Ecuador not Germany, and anyway Michael Ballack's moved to Chelsea."
The tackle you never expected to see: Blackburn's Lucas Neill robbing the ball beautifully from Ronaldinho. And, still on the subject of tackle you never expected to see, the family of one of the England players had a surprise when they visited Baden-Baden's world famous Friedrichsbad Spa. Nudity in the baths was compulsory.
German TV pundits Part IV. Germany beat Argentina on penalties, a nation goes berserk with joy as the cameras pan over thousands of fans waving flags. The players throw themselves on Jens Lehmann. Television cuts back to an unsmiling Gunther Netzer in the studio. "Ja, the German team played quite well," he said earnestly, "very compact." Difficult man to impress.
The WAGs carnival wasn't just restricted to wives and girlfriends of players or the coaching staff, they even had MASSWAGs too - England footballers' masseurs' wives. If Sky don't make the show, ITV will.
At least the WAGs didn't go this far. Before the Munich semi-final, on the traditional players pre-match pitch inspection (before the warm-up) Portugal's defender Jorge Andrade was spotted - ahem - "smooching" with a young lady who had come down to the perimeter fence to see him. Chelsea's Paulo Ferreira had to settle for having his hair ruffled by a lady of advanced years. I think it was his mum.
Revenge of the WAGs. One reporter who particularly annoyed them almost found himself paying for the WAGs' farewell dinner at the Brenner's Park hotel. Their attempts to put it on his hotel bill failed.Reuse content