England vs Switzerland, a fan experience

Given that I deserted my hometown club many years ago, and have never returned to them, I have always been an international man over club. I am confident that in supporting England,  I am supporting the right team. I have resolved to go to more matches, and have recently accepted that this entails making trips to the dreaded capital. 

When I went to get a ticket for the Switzerland friendly (none of my friends wanted to go), I was surprised to see they had sold out. I went on Twitter and a search returned one tweet from a man saying he had a free one. I messaged him and within a week the ticket came through the letterbox. Now, I had to arrange getting there. I could have got a coach to Victoria on my own, but that would have made for a lonely trip. Instead I found the nearest fan coach going, which happened to be in West Bromwich. 

For some obscure meteorological reason, we’ve had a heatwave in the middle of March. And with the sun comes great joy. The blackthorns are blossoming white by the roadsides, the Japanese cherries are pink, and with spring comes the promise of new beginnings…

I drove up in my sunnies and shorts, and parked up at the park and ride. There was litter everywhere. I took advantage of a well-resourced local offy and picked up a coffee and an Elux Legend. 

Everyone waiting for the bus had thick black country accents and were of all ages and sizes. Some were singing 10 German Bombers while drinking cans of cider at 10AM. The song had mutated into 10 Russian Bombers, now portraying a fantasy scenario in which the ‘RAF from England’ were called in to shoot down Russian planes and to hell with the inevitable geopolitical consequences.

One lad was playing music off the BlueTooth. He put on some good tracks, but had a habit of skipping to the next one after it was two thirds in, which is not acceptable practice in civilised society. They were dancing and singing at the back, and for a moment went into a frenzy when they thought the other coach was overtaking ‘Quick! Everybody! look like we are having a great time!” and they all got up for it and went mental until one of them eventually revealed that the coach was not in fact overtaking.

We listened to England songs most of the way there, and I listened to Talksport, who mentioned all of the new players, some of whom I hadn’t even heard of. 

When we got near to the arches, a lady beckoned me over to sit with them while we went through more England ballads. They were kind and hospitable people who spoke to me about what club I followed et cetera. On the seat next to me was a children’s book about a boy and a shark, which was there for reasons unaccountable. 

We dispersed when we got off at Green Man. This is one of the largest pubs I’ve ever been to, with a huge garden area, on which were basking hundreds and hundreds of England fans, many topless, whose draped flags displayed that they came from all over the kingdom. I got a drink and stood at the side, watching the celebrations, when two lads joined me. They told me they had stepped back from the Russian bomber chants as they were teachers and did not wish to be incriminated by a viral TikTok video. When the bombers songs ended, we moved into the throng. One of the lads looked like a much chunkier Jamie Vardy. I offered verbal support to another who had drank more than the amount of Jagerbombs that would be recommended by your doctor. 

They soon adopted me, and I joined them for more beers. They were kind, hospitable folk. One group of them all worked trades, and had their heads screwed tightly to their necks. As I am often wont to do these days, I lamented my idiocy for going to university and incurring a lifetime’s worth of debt for no job on the other end. 

I wandered around looking for Rizzla and a filter, and then got chatting to another group of lads from Kettering, and I told them I remembered seeing a play called Exodus Geolohagan– from back when I followed Burton Albion, for his obscenely long throws– and they reminisced like he was an old family friend. 

We drank the afternoon away with great joy until it was time to walk over to Wembley, and there we went our separate ways. The stadium itself is very modern and of course, larger than any club stadium football stadium you’d go to. The concourse is enormous and teeming with England fans scurrying around like ants. There is a section selling big pink paper bags of ‘candy’ and popcorn. And I’m going to sound like the Ofsted of football games from hereon in, but a number of similar things did not impress me. Come on Wembley, it ain’t the bloody Superbowl. We don’t eat candy and popcorn when there’s football on. 

I paid £8 for a pie and a bottle of water which was decanted into a cup, presumably because I might, in a moment of reckless abandon, throw the bottle at one of the Switzerland players. Presumably the reason the pie was so expensive was because fewer people would be likely to throw those too if they were paying through the nose for it. 

I’ve not been to this ground since 2006, when we beat Estonia by three goals to nil. And I remember it vividly as it was the first football match I ever went to, and I had that magical experience of seeing a real football pitch, with real goals, in real life, and it confirmed to me that this beautiful game I had seen so many times on television was in fact a real thing that took place in real life. I maintain that this is one of the most profound experiences a child can ever hope to have. 

I was standing around 15 metres behind the goal. This doesn’t provide a very good view of the game, as you can’t really see what happens up the other end, and have less of a view of the players’ positioning on the field as you are not looking from above. But for dangerous attacks it is the place to be. In the early minutes, Shaqiri whipped it in with pinpoint accuracy and Embolo headed it back where it came from, so that it nestled into the corner. 

I did not suspect it was going to be one of those days. 

Considering how shaky he is for Everton, it is interesting that wearing an England shirt, in his forty odd caps, Pickford has yet to make an error that has led to a goal. It is a strange psychological phenomenon I do not understand.  He made impressive saves throughout the game, one reaction save, when he tipped it onto the bar, keeping us in the contest. 

Luke Shaw scored a welcome equaliser right before half time with a powerful strike, laid off across the area by Gallagher, who looked bright. 

At half time, I saw an old bald man plastered with tattoos and piercings, notably an england flag on his face. When the fans across the stadium switched on their torches, he kept saying ‘these new age fans! What the fuck is that about? They don’t know what they’re doing anymore do they?’

And while play commenced, I kept hearing him muttering ‘Bloody new age fans!’ 

He’s right, football isn’t what it used to be. Which brings me back to my Ofsted report- another thing for which I despaired, was that elastic bands were being flicked here there and everywhere. A person had thought, before they went to the game, ‘I’ve got an idea, I’ll bring a massive pack of elastic bands to flick around, that’ll be good.” It was mostly children doing so, and this is a damning reflection of the parents that they would allow their children to contribute to this fad, without giving them a good shaking. Also, there were many paper aeroplanes gliding from the top of the stand, and the crowd would go ‘ooooooooooooo’ until one of them eventually hit the pitch. They must have been bored. 

Wembley should be ejecting these people, I’d recommend installing trap doors under the seats, leading to the sewers below. Bloody new age fans.

Then there were a couple of Mexican waves which went round. I watched intently as the arms went up, all round the stadium, even in the little Switzerland end, until it got to my stand. When it came round, it was a revolt. Nobody did it. Instead, a lot of the fans, faced the wave to our right as it came and started doing wanker gestures to their own fans and holding up V-signs. 

When Kane stepped up and smashed in the winning goal, a penalty, the celebrations were muted. Like scoring was something we expected to happen. It wasn’t like at a club game where everybody goes momentarily hysterical with joy. I want some random bloke next to me to have his arm around me jumping around, not some kid munching on fried egg sweets and clapping like a seal. 

The stadium started emptying out long before the final whistle.

So to Gareth and all the Wembley bigwigs, I acknowledge it was only a friendly, but I’m going to have to give you an ‘inadequate’, which means if you don’t sort it out by the next inspection, you will be closed down indefinitely. 

Now for the next chapter, which brought new fortunes. I went straight back to the coach, and sat, waiting to leave. We were waiting for a couple, who apparently, not owning smartphones, had lost their way. I wanted to get back and still do things that night ast was only eight o’clock. The couple took around an hour and a half, and frustrated I said ‘who the fuck takes an hour and a half to get back on the coach?” An elderly lady with a walking stick, and her elederly husband turned up eventually, and we left. I felt a little bit foolish.

On previous coach experiences, the trip back was an opportunity to wind down, to maybe get some sleep before the final journey home. But the West Brom bunch had other ideas. 

The lights remained on for the first hour of the trip, and they played loud music, songs like Bohemian Rhapsody and Michael Jackson songs, while dancing up and down the aisle. A West Brom mother, whose son was on the back, took to the microphone and started reading from the aforementioned children’s book with the shark, and proceeded to read it until we got out of London. I’ve never wanted someone to stop speaking more, desperately covering my ears.

I exhausted my phone for opportunities to escape, going on nearly every app, seeking to distract myself from the horrors around me. How did these people have so much energy? Why so uninhibited? They weren’t even drinking anymore. I avoided eye contact. I felt like such a killjoy, but I had to drive home, for me, the party was over. The truth was, I did not have the energy to speak to Clare and Steve about anything, let alone join in with their dancing. 

The journey back lasted forever. Like a child who is eagerly awaiting arrival at Disneyland, every five minutes, I checked maps to see how close we were to our destination. During the time it took to get from Milton Keynes to Leamington Spa, I felt like I could have transitioned from Gandalf the Grey, to White. However, unlike Gandalf,  I awoke not in the fabled White City of Gondor, but a dingy West Brom park and ride. 

At last there comes a time for us all, and mine eventually came for me. My journey ended with an emotional duet of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart by Clare and Steve. On the M69 I had tears in my eyes. 

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