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World Cup 2006 Germany

9 June-9 July 2006

Sour Grapes

Anticipation of the World Cup in Germany started the moment the venue was announced years beforehand but the real excitement started once the tickets sales began sometime in 2005. We applied along with Planty for the "TFT" follow-my-team tickets for England and tried to edge our bets by not choosing the cheapest category. This master plan didn't work as come the day of the allocation we got the dreaded "your application was unsuccessful". This more or less set the tone for the whole ticketing experience and I suspect many people were left feeling that the tickets were beyond reach. Naturally we applied via the later "rounds" for whatever was on offer trying to edge our way towards the elusive England tickets but the only success was 2 tickets for the first round Serbia-Ivory Coast tie in Munich. We paid 100 euros per ticket and sat in the gods with the roof for a hat. Pretty poor really for ardent footy fans and I would tell Franz Beckenbauer that if only he climbed down from his ivory helicopter for five minutes to touch base with planet Earth.

The second avenue for tickets via Englandfans rested on the allocation provided to each national association. When this was announced at 8% of stadium capacity you could hear the english moans from Munich. This paltry amount had to include all subsequent allocations to be made by the FA and the phrase "Football Family" became a byword for mistrust with a hint of corruption. The "Family" is a pseudonym for staff, cronies, hangers-on, ex-players, current players, FA affiliates and amounted to thousands of tickets being diverted away from ordinary fans. By the time it came to the balloting process the number of tickets available to Englandfans members was down to the 3000 mark, the sort of figure we would expect for an away game in Estonia not a World Cup tournie in a wealthy country which had refurbished all stadia by adding capacity. Sponsers were not part of the Family, they got a huge allocation directly from FIFA/Beckenbauer. Although Beckenbauer would be quick to indicate that over 3 million tickets were available in total this means little to the ordinary fan who has only a minute chance of going to games that interest HIM.

There is only one tried and tested method to deal with ticketing when the event attracts such huge interest. We do it in England for rugby and cricket and this is via membership of fan clubs: a) fans are naturally less inclined to sell the tickets for profit (Beckenbauer appeared to have no concept of this), b) the general public has only half-a-mind to go to the World Cup and don't really give a toss whether they get a ticket or not, but try anyway thereby reducing the chance for the ardent fans c) the national associations already have ticketing procedures in place and know how to reach the fans d) the FA already have a policy of filtering out hoolies from travelling to away games whereby Beckenbauer's open shop approach allowed all the scum to come out from under their rocks. If FIFA is a federation of football associations then it should use the associations as cogs in the process and not go it completely alone.

The Beckenbauer/Blatter axis favoured an open arm policy reaching out to the four corners of planet football in the vain hope to bring more members into the fold. Its a policy Blatter will no doubt sorely need for the South Africa World Cup in 2010 where fans will be less inclined to travel thousands of miles to a third rate footballing nation but Germany didn't need to hype it up, everyone was gunna go anyways. Was politics the ultimate ringleader here, desperately trying to correct Germany's image abroad once and for all? I wouldn't be surprised.

After the World Cup finished, Sepp Blatter FIFA supremo declared his disappointment with the ticketing process and that he would not sanction the same approach again. Vindication methinks.

Murphy's Law

Planty and Martina had announced their engagement and the date for the wedding needed to be set and subsequently Planty canvassed my opinion for a date during the World Cup (sound of alarm bells ringing). It was about November 2005 at this point and although all the qualifiers for the final were known the seeding and grouping had not been done. It was clear that Germany would be "A1" in the draw and so I pointed out all the significant scenarios featuring England on a weekend during June 2006. The most obvious was that if England were to be drawn in group B they would end up playing group A in the second round on the weekend of the 24th-25th. For extra excitement, if England came second in their group they would likely play Germany, in MUNICH!!! Although only hypothetical it was worth considering whether this weekend should be reserved for footy. Murphy's Law struck big time as me and Bev were allocated tickets via Englandfans for exactly this tie (England second round game wherever to be played) and Planty announced the wedding for the 24th. So torn between a rock and a hard place we went to the footy while the gang did Slovakia. Would like to have done both, but thats life.

The Long Arm of the Law

The ticketing process had been a long, drawn out affair but now having been allocated the princely sum of 4 tickets (Serbia-Ivory Coast x2 plus England 2nd round x2) we settled in for the long wait to 10th June, England's opening game against minnows Paraguay. "Not so fast Sunny Jim" said the nice policeman. During the opening few days of Euro2004 in Portugal I had been arrested by portuguese police in Lisbon and thereby was banned from the World Cup and my membership suspended from Englandfans! Or at least so read the letter that arrived one innocuous morning. It informed me of my right to appeal which I immediately undertook by faxing off colour copies of my passport and Englandfans membership. The letter had said nothing about the details of the "alleged" arrest and so instead of trying to proove my whereabouts "on the night of the crime" I assumed it was a case of mistaken identity and requested that "they" (the FA?, UK Police?, dunno) double check their records ("off to the tower with him!").

An anxious few days passed and finally I spotted that somebody had tried to call me at work. I called them back and had a luvvly chat with some nice bloke called Doug who mused over the attractions of Bayern's new Alliance Arena and how he hoped to visit it during the World Cup! A luvverly 20 minutes was had and he informed me that it had all been a mistake and that he would "personally see to the database records being erased". Apparently, another Gary Robert Jones born on the same day as me, in the same year, is on the UK police records as having been arrested in Lisbon. The only difference being that he was born in Plymouth. This discrepancy was in Doug's words not enough to distinguish me from this other fella and without any further investigation I was assumed to be him. Well Doug my old son, if you think thats reasonable then the UK is definately a police state. Dougie-Boy used to work at Scotland Yard and having retired had taken up the post of chief security officer with the FA. Go back to your slippers Doug and leave police work to the.......police. Parting platitude: Doug assured me he would personally contact his mates at Scotland Yard and erase my association with this crime on THEIR records. I've never committed as much as a misdemeanour in my entire life but apparently I have a police record with Scotland Yard through mistaken identity.

Dougie backed up this conversation with a letter confirming that all records of this incident had been erased from Englandfans records. So hopefully I won't be red-flagged each and every time I apply for future tickets. BIG BROTHER: its not just a crappy TV programme.

Nice in Nice

Having committed to a trip to Provence with the gang at the start of June we found ourselves in Nice for the opening game against Paraguay. We scouted out a suitable outdoor bar and settled in for the match. England got off to a good start, dominating the first half looking pretty sharp and at half time we were comfortable. In my wardrobe of pet theories lurks the "they can't score" mantra which I tag onto any team that may huff and puff but not blow the house down. To my mind Paraguay were gunna huff and the only player I knew of causing a puff was Nelson Valdez then of Werder Bremen. Bremen probably the classiest outfit in the Bundesliga at the time, league champions 2004/05, capable of winning 6-0 one week but followed by a 4-0 defeat the next could score goals and Valdez knows where the onion bag is. On the other hand, Roque Santa Cruz, Bayern's young star is a muppet. Never suited to the european game Bayern persist with him against the odds but apparently he's revered back in Asuncion. But Roque Santa Cruz versus JT and the Rock of Rio! Are you mad? Sure enough he mounted to nothing, Paraguay huffed and puffed after they went 1-0 down, they flashed a couple of shots passed Robbo's post but as always with these second tier teams they keep the ball well on the half way line but theres no penetration in the box and they don't score against the top teams. It all proved to be abit inevitable and I was never worried. And oh, Valdez was crap too.

Biergarten ist Offen

In Germany Beckenbauer is lauded as an emperor. The sun definately shines out of his proverbial and he must have a direct line to the gods who control the weather. If scientists wish to claim an official start date for global warming I would suggest 9th June 2006. Nobody could deny it was hot during the World Cup, the weather in June is usually changeable and mild with usually some sunny periods but in 2006 the sun shon and shon and shon. We all melted and bathed in the glorious sunshine and schlepped around in thongs. This meant the beer gardens were the number one place to be and the Paulaner at Nockherberg became our standard meeting place. When anyone says how great the World Cup in Germany was remind them that the weather had a lot to do with it. Everyones happy when the sun shines and the party spirit sored in Germany with all the outdoor events bursting to the seams and beer running out everywhere. All the Fan Parks were overflowing and in Berlin the main drag down from the Reichstag was full with half a million people. Germany bathed in the limelight and their team steamrollered over expectations by going all the way to the semi-finals. Germany loved it and EVERYONE was involved. Millions of little german flags flew from cars and houses and I bombed around in the car with the St.George streaming from the window. Ace. Germany was mighty sad when it was all over but they didn't forget to congratulate themselves for a job well done. Thank God it didn't rain.

Nuremberg Trials

Partly due to the glorious weather, partly due to fun experiences during Euro2004 we decided more or less the night before to head up to Nuremberg for the day for England's second group game against Trinidad & Tobago. Planty and a load of other mates were also intending to go and we all met up in the main square in Nuremberg at midday. It was another hugely hot day with temperatures in the 30s. Nuremberg laid on a great party. The town square is a large market place and this had been converted to a beer garden with food stalls and entertainment. It was full of english with a few T&T supporters thrown in. Planty did the dirty deed and handed over the going rate for a ticket. There were others available but we decided to keep our powder dry for later rounds. For me the emphasis was on having a day out. We knew from Portugal just how many fans would gather to party and hang on the vibe and we did our bit. A few beers later we headed off to the Fan Park located near the stadium and waved Planty off as he made his way into the ground.

Vicky, her new fella, me, Bev, Kidneys and Brian took in the match via the huge video screen along with about 20,000 others. It was free. We sneaked our beer in under the fence and and proceded to watch England make heavy weather against a minnow team so low in world ranking they're in danger of "falling off the coupon". Their players play mostly in the scottish leagues for teams such as Falkirk. They have Shaky Hislop in goal, no great talent but experienced and play their only world star in Dwight Yorke out of position. They are blessed by the mighty Saints striker Kenwyne Jones...only kidding, who must have spent the whole match kicking himself in disbelief over his good fortune. The highlights show yet again how profligate England are against weaker opposition as allinsundry proceded to mishit, scuff and fall over. Lampard was the main culprit. A fiver for every missed chance would keep me in beer for years. T&T had some chances too. An acrobatic clearance off the line by JT spared England's blushes and by half-time we were shaking our heads. With 75 minutes gone I was now worried. We weren't going to lose but we weren't going to win either. Rooney came on to appear for the first time since his injury but was utterly ineffective.

Then joy. Relief personified. Whatever anyone, especially Liverpool fans might say, Peter Crouch was statistically the most effective striker available at that time. Scoring in more or less all of his games since coming to the England fold he should just be played all the time until his legs fall off. And suddenly there he was, rising, slightly with assistance of a defenders back, serenely, salmonesque, the ball goal-bound. No longer doing his robo dance celebration he took the plaudits and the kind decision of the ref. He's been blown up a million times in his career for using support when heading but he got away with it this time producing a clean bullet header to beat the keeper. Phew, we were gunna win.

Just to make sure, with what the german commentator labelled a Sonntagsschuss (cheeky blighter), Stevie G put the lame horse out of its misery by smacking a 30 yard screamer into the far corner in the last minute. To even the balance out, you have to hand it to Liverpool fans, they've got a football genius in Stevie. Tagged by the Englandfans forum as "Smoke & Mirrors" he truly is sublime. He actually PLAYS sublimely in that he uses effortless, light than air actions to pull off stunning, pile driving results. Whereas Lampard is a grinder and Rooney a bruiser, Stevie G is smooth as silk. I bet he could pass the KungFu challenge without tearing the rice paper. England without Steven Gerrard is unthinkable.

A crazy bus ride back to town saw us having another jar with the lads in the beer garden and eventually Planty turned up flush with stories of VIP treatment and chats with Nancy Dell'Olio. He's a charmer and no doubt Nancy momentarily considered dumping boring Sven for larger than life Planty but apparently he wasn't dressed right for the VIP lounge and had to make a timely exit. No doubt the full story's on his blog somewhere. He's a card and you just wonder what he's got against doing the ordinary. He cadged a lift off us back to M while the others including his sister got the last train home arriving about 3 in the morning. Jamie and some others missed it and crashed in Nuremberg. Sweet.

We're Not Goin'ome, We're Not Goin'ome...

A scorchingly hot day hovering at 40 degC graced our day trip to Stuttgart for the second round match against world beaters another Paraguay who had done better in the group phase by beating Poland and Costa Rica. To digress, anyone who asked me of my opinion to the outcome of this game got the same unequivocal answer: England would win coz we always do. The defeat to Argentina in the second round of France '98 notwithstanding, England usually despatch the second round opposition with some aplomb. Whereas minor teams are already over-achieving by reaching this stage, bigger teams with designs on the trophy step up the ante as they strain their collective nostrels for a sniff of the Jules Rimet. Recalling the demolitions of Paraguay in Mexico '86 and Denmark in Japan/Korea 2002, I was quietly confident that England would overcome another second-rate latin american team only too happy to have got this far. England had more-or-less a first 11 to choose from (Carragher for Neville-G) and opted for Rooney up front on his own (having lost Owen to a ligament tear against Sweden) but Wayne's frustration was indicative of England's spluttering attempts to score. Ecuador had a huge chance early doors, following a mistimed clearance from JT, only a heroic last ditch block by Ashley Cole saw England saved from an uphill task on such a energy sapping boiling hot day. Ashley arrived like an Exocet from somewhere on the left to block the strikers shot which deflected onto the bar. It all happened in a split second and I think its Ashley's athleticism and guile which for me gives him the nod over the more gentlemanly Wayne Bridge. Unsurprisingly Lampard was once again profligate, scuffing and daisy-cutting every opportunity. It was a slow and turgid game but England were on the whole the dominant side with Ecuador moving the ball around but never mounting a direct strike on goal.