So that’s it, England have crashed out of the first African World Cup at the Round of 16 stage. The game in Bloemfontein was rather disappointing but included, as predicted yesterday, a rather controversial decision that has captured global headlines.
When I started the World Cup countdown blogs in August 2009 my goal was to run up to the end of England’s participation. I was hoping that this would take me to the final in July but here we are. I’ve promised not to use any lines from the commentary of the famous 1966 final but this will be the last blog that I post.
For the last 10 months I have tried to cover topics that highlight the various and diverse strands of work that our High Commission is engaged in. Along the way I have referred to the extensive planning and communications programmes that we hoped would help travelling football fans maximise their stays in South Africa. The High Commission has worked closely with a range of stakeholders including the Football Supporters Federation, the Home Office, the Football Policing Unit and the FA.
At the same time part of my “day job” was to monitor the coverage that the UK received in the South African press and try to balance negative reporting of South Africa in the UK media. South Africans, like many other nationalities, have (or at least had) a tendency to regard English football fans as hooligans.
Since the tournament started I have made this more of a World Cup diary as I’ve travelled the country as part of the High Commission’s mobile consular team. Our goal was to support those fans that came here. Estimates have varied but it is fair to say that tens of thousands made the trip and from what I’ve witnessed the vast majority have had a great time. They’ll have fond memories of their time here (until last night of course).
I am, in case you haven’t noticed, building up to the key message of this blog. The fact is it’s about the fans. I’ve been watching football as a fan for decades (although some might question my use of the word “football” as a Southampton Fan). Over this time it has been fair to say that English fans have had their problems both perceived and actual. The reputation that they had here might have been well deserved in the past but these days it’s exactly that - a thing of the past.
I saw the fans at the Waterfall Mall in Rustenburg, at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, at the Boardwalk in Port Elizabeth and, last night, at the lakeside in Bloemfontein. They have proudly displayed their flags and have sung their songs with passion. In Port Elizabeth the rendition of our national anthem was incredibly moving. What they have not done, at any stage, is caused trouble. They have made many, many friends in South Africa; not least a local journalist friend of mine who managed to get a ticket for yesterday’s game because she wanted to sing with them.
They came in fancy dress, they painted their faces, and they sang their songs (including a new one about the now infamous vuvuzela – you heard about that first on these pages). The local Times newspaper ran a headline this morning which said simply – “Peace Breaks Out”. It was referring to the fantastic atmosphere between German and English fans in the build up to yesterday’s game.
I will leave the last words in my series of blogs to Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt, the Association of Chief Police Officer’s football lead, who said:
“This World Cup should be remembered for the one where there were no arrests of England fans for football related violence. The fans here have behaved exemplary and have acted as ambassadors for England”.
I cannot add to that - what a great bunch of fans, you did us proud.
My thanks to everyone that has taken the time to read these blog posts. See you in Brazil?
They think it’s all over ..............................................