There are two broad types of fans, those who attend matches in the flesh and those who don’t. OK, it is impossible to get tickets these days to Premiership games so one is forced back into the armchair with the remote control and a PC to mull over the media coverage of the sport.
But there is a third type and that is the fan who travels to away games but not the match. A scarce species in the domestic game and at qualifiers but found in huge numbers (e.g. 80,000 English fans in Cologne) at a World Cup or European Championship Finals.
What made this World Cup for me were the legions of travelling fans, the vast majority without a cat’s chance in hell of a ticket, who came to the host country to cheer their team alongside thousands of others in the same boat. Previously travelling to a World Cup entailed having a ticket or attempting to obtain one, but no longer.
If someone says they are going to a Bandarqq World Cup now one automatically does not assume it is to get inside the stadium, or even near the host city.
This has been a phenomenon I have only noticed previously with Welsh rugby fans, who, when the dragons are playing in Dublin for instance, will travel to a random Irish city to watch the game and then sail home the day after.
At this World Cup I witnessed several such ‘odd’ gatherings such as legions of Croatian fans, bedecked in their tablecloth flag and with replica shirts, scarves and face paint on the occasion of their nation’s match with Brazil in Berlin, but they were stood in front of a big screen in Hamburg.
Some of the best fans left the tournament too early – the Australians, Koreans, Polish and Dutch and once again it was confirmed to me how the fun level diminishes after the first round.
It really was a supporter’s World Cup, as the fan fests confirmed. Let’s face it the footy wasn’t that memorable. Take away Italy’s classy execution of the host nation in Dortmund, Zidane’s thuggish au revoir to the sport and that Argentina goal against Serbia that let every man on the field plus the groundsman and a few ball-boys have a touch before it crossed the line and it was not a WC to remember on the field.
Australia’s comeback against Japan was somewhat memorable, as was Custer’s last stand when a nine-man USA held off the eventual winners Italy, plus the card-fest of Portugal v Holland but overall it was more an Italia 90 than a Spain 82.
There were no Cameroons of 1990 or South Koreas of 2002. Only T&T;’s draw with Sweden had a whiff of the plucky underdog heroism we eagerly anticipate each World Cup. And Zidane apart, whom we knew rather well already, were there any real stars to savour this time?
But if you had been there you would have come away beaming at the memories. For me it was Japanese & Trinidadians in Frankfurt, Tunisians in Stuttgart, Spanish in Cologne and Germans in Munich. And some of those were on days when their countries were not playing there.
Forget the expense, the corporate takeover, the disappointing games and travel headaches, there really is nothing compared to attending a World Cup Finals in person. Once you get the bug your life will come to be defined by four-yearly cycles. I met a man at his eleventh WC for instance, and I am sure he was not alone. He was not a nerd either, but an apparently normal guy with a wife, kids and career.
You might need a bullet-proof jacket for 2010 if the scare-stories are correct but what the heck, paint it in your national colours and come along. A television in your own country is simply no comparison.