Tom Peck on World Cup 2014: Pity the army of England fans – they’ve got nothing to do now but lounge on sunny beaches and visit the natural beauties of Brazil
In a country like Brazil, the bright side of life isn’t hard to look on. In Qatar, though...
Sturridge really didn’t look himself, sat on the beach at sunset, two-thirds of his way though a large bottle of lager, each rolling wave sinking his plastic chair and table deeper into the wet sand. For a start, he was in his mid-forties, entirely bald, four to six stone overweight and, it could not be ignored, pasty white.
His mate Gerrard, younger but significantly fatter, sitting next to his Anfield colleague on the narrow beach at Buzios three hours outside Rio de Janeiro, seemed to wear a more philosophical expression, but was probably more pissed.
They were merely two members of an English army many thousands strong, now suddenly and rather amusingly dispersed to all corners of a vast, football-loving land.
Brazil is a popular destination for nature enthusiasts, and over the coming fortnight, the bemused, thumb-twiddling England fan will be an easy beast to bag.
“We don’t really know what to do,” Gerrard told this column. “We only came on Monday. We’ve only got tickets to one game, and that’s Costa Rica v Greece, and it’s effing miles away.”
It is England’s spectacularly premature exit that has led this column, too, to be relaxing in sleepy Buzios, not relentlessly riding the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car to spy on England’s training sessions.
While they were still in the tournament, England’s fans did their foreign duty well, which is of course to transform wherever they go, be it Sao Paulo, Sicily or Sapporo, into a loud, shirtless, lager-soaked satellite state of Benidorm.
Among this column’s happiest memories of its time at that once-in-a-lifetime thing, a World Cup in Brazil, will be the unmistakable sound of those first sweet notes of “No Surrender to the IRA” [now defunct] rising into the Copacabana night, carried on the vapours of super-strength caipirinha, and Skol drunk straight from the can.
Another, less happy but more unforgettable, will be watching the England contingent rise as one, applaud as one, and sing their throats hoarse in Belo Horizonte as the players sheepishly went to thank them at the end of a dull, stifling goalless draw with Costa Rica that had been rendered pointless four days before kick-off, when a large percentage of those present hadn’t even begun their journey to Brazil yet.
Unconditional love is a beautiful but often unsettling thing to observe, like the murderer’s mother who sits patiently in the public gallery, occasionally scowling at the victim’s family.
“I’m England till I die, I’m England till I die,” was the loud refrain that reverberated around the stadium where England lost 1-0 to the part-timers from the United States 64 years ago on their way to being dispatched from the 1950 World Cup.
A sweet sentiment, in its way, and one that is probably to be admired in a fan on the terrace, given the abundant evidence of the interchangeable nature of nationality in the player on the pitch.
One only dares to imagine the thoughts that ran through the Brazilian born-and-bred Diego Costa’s mind as he retrieved his Spanish passport from his pocket to pass through customs at Madrid a few days ago, the tournament back home alive and kicking, and his proper nation looking like they could use a proper centre-forward.
Roy Hodgson rather angrily turned the question back on this column when it dared to ask whether England’s players deserved such an enraptured response.
“What do you think? Do you think they deserved it? Surely I get to ask a question sometimes? I gave up in football a long time ago worrying about whether you get what you deserve. You get what you get.”
Indeed you do. And what several thousand England fans now have is a football-less holiday in the home of football.
England’s boozed-up congregation finds itself stuck in an unfamiliar church, the service suddenly over. But being free from the inevitable torment at such an early moment should be grasped as an opportunity, not a disappointment.
“Recife, that’s where the game is. Two hours’ flight and that weren’t cheap, either,” said Sturridge. “We might go up there anyway. He [Gerrard] wants to go and see these sand dunes that have got all these little lakes and lagoons in them. I can’t really be bothered but it’s summat to do, innit?”
If England’s collection of bright attackers and woeful defenders had managed to compile just a little more than a solitary point from their Group D tribulations they would be playing today in the mighty Maracana, the most celebrated amphitheatre in all of football.
Tim Richards and his nine-year-old son Max, from High Wycombe, have parted with their tickets for that match, which will now feature a Suarez-less Uruguay against a Falcao-less Colombia, and are instead taking a lengthy bus journey south to see the Iguazu Falls. World Cup heartbreak has made unlikely holidaymakers of all of us, and in a country like Brazil the bright side of life isn’t hard to look on.
When the inevitable happens in eight years’ time, however, when the World Cup is being contested in a lifeless shopping mall – and not a very big one either – and England’s party comes to an end far before the likes of Switzerland and Greece and the US and Belgium and Algeria (Algeria!), well that will be a rather different matter altogether.
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