Simon Calder: 'Bring our guys home before the postcards'
The man who pays his way
Saturday 12 June 2010
Some Scots, it is said, have a simple default position in terms of football support during major tournaments. They naturally back their national team, but in the unlikely event that Scotland fail to qualify or take an early bath, their support devolves to "whoever's playing England" – in the case of tonight's match at Rustenburg in South Africa, the US.
Travel companies in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and, indeed, England take this position one stage further: they are never happier than when all the home nations fail to make the finals. In the event that one or more team scrape through, they pray for an early exit from the competition.
While the hearts of some holiday-firm bosses may urge Fabio Capello's team towards glory, their heads (and their finance directors) long for ignominious defeat at the hands of an unfancied opposition in the group stage. So America, Algeria and Slovenia will be earning some unexpected moral – or amoral – support from the UK travel industry.
The problem is: our profound human desire to explore the planet, unlock its wonders and meet fascinating strangers is supplanted during big sporting events by a more tribal need to sit in a pub, drink strong lager (such as Tennent's, known to Scottish fans as "Vitamin T") and collectively watch match after match played out on a big screen, baying or bragging appropriately.
Nowhere on the planet – except perhaps plucky North Korea – will be free of the wall-to-wall coverage of the world's biggest sporting event over the next four weeks. If you happen to be a fan, what could be more pleasurable than watching England's match against Algeria in the Algarve or the Slovenian game in Patrick's Irish pub in Ljubljana (address: Precna ulica 6, pint of Strongbow: €4)?
Plenty, according to the travel trade. "A major sporting event, just as the industry is getting back on its feet, is about the last thing anybody in the business wants," a very senior figure in the UK travel industry tells me.
"We want to get holidaymakers away as soon as possible, but people won't book until England get knocked out." Or, dare I suggest it, repeat the nation's triumph in our World Cup of Holiday Destinations.
My source has one World Cup wish: "We'd like our guys to be home before the postcards."
You may despise football, but for the next month you can profit from the "beautiful game". For departures between now and mid-July, prices are amazingly low. The timing of the World Cup could hardly be worse for travel firms – by the time the competition finishes, four weeks tomorrow, schools will start to break up and holiday companies will have no difficulty filling aircraft seats or hotel beds. But right now it's tough for the tour operators, and great for the holidaymakers.
Yesterday, as the tournament began, an Airbus full of Thomas Cook passengers from Birmingham flew off to enjoy a week's holiday in Marmaris, Turkey, for £169 – including flights, transfers and a three-star hotel with breakfast. If you have no plans for this coming Monday, Thomson will take you from Gatwick to Corfu, with a week's self-catering accommodation, for £153 per person (based on two sharing). Many more deals will be up for grabs in the weeks ahead.
*** If you yearn to be in South Africa, plenty of flights and hotels are unsold – as well as tickets for many matches on the official Fifa website. Tickets for the final on 11 July in Johannesburg are "currently not available"– which is not the same thing as "sold out".
BA and SAA have seats from Heathrow before the big match, returning five days after, for only £725 return. And Johannesburg's Backpackers Ritz has doubles for £110, including breakfast – and a sense of history in the making.
The way we played in the summer of 66
As is traditional at such times, let us look back to 1966 – not to argue about the "Russian" linesman (actually the official was from Azerbaijan), who allowed a controversial third goal for England, but to consider how and where we travelled. Britannia Airways (now Thomson Airways) would take you on a slow, uncomfortable plane from Luton or Gatwick to a scattering of Mediterranean sunspots, sometimes as part of a package sold by one of the leading inclusive holiday brands of the time, Gaytours.
Transatlantic travel was barely a prospect for most people; for someone earning the average wage, it took about 10 weeks to save enough for a London-New York return flight (the current time required at the national minimum wage is about a week).
The vast majority of Brits stayed at home, watching the football in black-and-white. But at least no one had coined that awful term "staycation".
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