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WHEN ENGLAND BEAT ARGENTINA I WAS...
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The first half is spent in a packed bar at Bucharest Gare du Nord, watching the game with 200 Romanians and downing
Carlsberg at 25p a pint.
The penalty goes in, the bar goes wild. And I have to run to catch my train, ignoring well-oiled protests of the crowd who wonder where I will be for the Nigeria game.
The only person I know watching the game in this country is my French colleague, who sensibly went to Transylvania the day before. I have to agree to cheer for France against Denmark on Tuesday in return for a second half commentary by mobile phone that drops every time my train goes through a tunnel.
I am pacing up and down the train, screaming into my phone, cheering, pleading, singing. The whistle finally blows and a slow train to Translyvania is amazed at a red-faced Englishman ecstatically singing 'Football's coming home' at the top of his voice.
...On A Seismic Survey Ship In The Gulf Of Mexico
To make matters worse, the crew is a mixture of Swedes, Germans and Americans (who are convinced they are going to win
the World Cup after beating Portugal!).
One of us climbed the fountain at the centre of the square and hung the George Cross, only to be beckoned down by the police - but not before the paparazzi got a snapshot of him and the sainted flag to be published in the paper the next day!
Celebrations were conducted in good humour, and we even had the locals smiling and sharing in the fun. Just for irony's sake, the local church is St George's, with a statue of George slaying the dragon outside. There will be some more decorating to do in the near future, methinks!
Also, when England beat Germany 5-1, I was in the German supporters' section with the same bunch. By the end, all the Germans had left and all that remained were pockets of jubilant England supporters.
Sometimes living here is fantastic!
"The game was shown that evening in full but it is not the same really, is it? I am crossing fingers - and other bits
- that the Nigeria game will be live.
Surrounded by all these people of different cultures, I found myself the only one shouting at the TV. "Go on Becks!" "Hit it Owen!", I would shout amid the silence, squirming in my seat as we missed chances and closing my eyes as Beckham stepped up to take the penalty. Oh how I yearned to be back inside one of the pubs at university where everybody would have been shouting with me.
When the final whistle blew I stood on my coffee table with my England flag draped over my back and shoulders in celebration of the historic win. Everybody in the room just looked at me as if I was some kind of freak.
Oh how they just didnt understand. Oh how I wished there were other Englishmen there with whom I could share a hearty and manly embrace in the ecstasy of victory. Clearly the English passion for football is lost on the other nations of the world.
As my crowd of international friends left, half of them were thanking me for inviting them over to watch the
soccer. Oh the travesty!
Yet the irony of why I should miss us finally kick the arrogant Argentinian arses - note the alliteration - is vicious. I was busy doing a German exam and, perhaps to really rub salt into the wound, it was in a university in Wales.
The cruellest part was that although the exam went from one to four, I finished it an hour early, which was, alas, still too late.
Having gone out to celebrate finishing exams as well, I wasn't able to catch the subsequent as-live programme on ITV, which meant that, for years to come, I will be able only to smile and nod when people reminisce over Beckham's penalty and Sheringham's near wonder-goal.
If it's not the Argentinians, trust the Germans to get involved somehow!
Frustrated by lumpy Irish roads chocka with tractors, we had to listen to the first half on the short wave radio we'd brought along just in case.
We stopped the car for the penalty as we were too nervous to drive and prowled around the car. Leaping up and down to celebrate the Beckham penalty in the high street of a tiny Irish village was not what we had in mind. But we didn't complain.
We got to the guesthouse at half time, giving us ten minutes to change into our wedding garb before the second half.
I swear this is true, my girlfriend changed in around FIVE minutes in order to catch the game. That was almost as beautiful as the penalty. Five minutes for the great lady to get ready - what a revelation!!!!!
So, after commandeering the guest house TV, we caught the second half, hopped delighted into the car and got to the church a couple of minutes before the bride.
As you can imagine, the Irish were not as chuffed about the result as we were and we had to keep a lid on our
celebrations during the reception. But by about three in the morning, hearty choruses of Don't Cry For Me Argentina were
unashamedly heard throughout the building.
We were told months ago we would not be allowed to watch the match, but the fog of resentment hanging over the office forced a late concession - on the proviso we "are aware at all times of our environment, and respect the wishes of those who wish to work" (it was made quite clear how those who were ill on Friday would be treated).
I did ask the management about the permitted decibel level, giving examples of differing levels of exuberance.
The allowed celebration seemed to be something akin to Tim Henman's clenched-fist "Oh goody; I've won a point" effort. Not good.
I did get reasonably animated about 30 minutes in, as the office fool decided to propose that "Steven Gerrard is not a creative player - all he can do is tackle". The guy wears a big gold chain and garish silk shirts at office parties - with buttons undone to the midriff. He is a virgin.
I let out a resonant "yeah" as Beckham's penalty hit the net. The admonishing glares returned me to my coffee. I did my Henman impression when the final whistle went.
The full realisation of what I had missed hit when I left work four hours later - people passed out in the street, whole pubs singing (this being Leeds it was alternating between England chants and anti-ManYoo ditties), and worried policemen.
I saw the match, but I missed the experience.
At half time, disaster struck. My director (Japanese) called a meeting, so myself and a fellow Brit spent the following 45 minutes making our excuses every five minutes (toilet, coffee, urgently required documents, etc) to check out the live feed from the F365 website.
I even managed to smuggle a small England flag in to the meeting.
Oh, and there was one little fellow sitting alone in the corner wearing an Argentina shirt. He was, of course, the focus for a lot of singing and good-natured (but derisory) chants. It really was as good as being at home.
Of course when the goal went in everything went crazy, much beer was spilled and everyone in the bar was buzzing. Everyone, that is, apart from the little Argentinian fellow, who most of the bar went towards to shake his hand at the end of the game. A resigned smile on his face, he accepted everyone's good wishes.
I can't help thinking that those few hundred Englishmen would have probably burned him at the stake if it wasn't
for Mr Beckham and co, so there is at least one Argentinian out there who has a lot to thank the England football team
We heard that a penalty was given.... and went into a tunnel. That ten seconds seemed like ten minutes.
Our escape from the tunnel's signal black spot was greeted by a cheer coming from our miniature giver of all things
wonderful. England had scored!
Not only was I in the s***, I was also in Pennsylvania, USA, which meant that I had to get up at some ungodly hour to watch the match. I also therefore had to put up with possibly the worst commentators on earth - a seemingly drunk Irishman and a Yank blurting out all sort of rubbish about the game (Man, I miss Motty!).
I spent the rest of the day in jubilation, much to the bemusement of colleagues who don't know about or care about "soccer" unless their eight-year-old son or daughter is playing.
It's times like these when I wish I was back home in dreary Plymouth.
In a brief loss of rational thought, this clever lad had wandered, blindly, into an English pub. First bad move.
His second mistake was coming in through the only door beside the big screen TV, so the whole pub (I've never seen so many 'Owen' shirts on considerably under-athletic gents in my life) spotted this poor bloke stride in proudly as the only Argentine in the near and far. What made even worse for him was that he arrived during the national anthems.
What made my game so much more enjoyable was that this lad couldn't leave. Upon entering the fray, in the hope of digging up another glum Argentine in the crowd, he managed to shoulder-lock himself front row centre for the biggest game of our lives.
And every mis-hit, every wide shot, every stray pass by the South Americans, coupled with every beaming success by the Three Lions, saw this lad get heckled and taunted, poked, nudged, laughed at and teased beyond his wildest imagination.
And I, contentedly, stood there next to him and just smiled.
As we took control, I smiled to him.
As Dave put the ball in the net, I smiled more.
As we strung 17 consecutive passes into play, I was positively grinning.
And just as it looked like Argentina might have a comeback in mind, the final whistle blew.
I suggested to my new best friend that maybe he'd best leave an English pub, after an English victory because the only thing better than an English victory is an English celebration.
I love it.
Needless to say, there were only four other people in the same cinema at the time.
How sad is that?
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