At Italia 1990, England were stationed on the island of Sardinia, with suspicions raised that FIFA had fixed the seedings to ensure the “English disease” of hooliganism was quarantined from the Italian mainland. As Mathew Engel wrote in the Guardian at the time, “Britain is the only country which sends a government minister around telling other countries how dreadful his fellow citizens are.”
Back then, few wanted to be associated with England away. When England played Ireland in the group stages at the Sant’Elia stadium in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia, the game did not even sell out.
Pete Davies in All Played Out recalls that “The Italians had 7,000 police and carabinieri on Sardinia — more police than there were England fans . . . ’90 Tour had sold less than half their 3,000 packages; with the FA selling most of their allocation of 2,816, and then a few hundred buying in the street, I’d say the Irish outnumbered the English in the Sant’Elia by two to one at the very least.”
The press chased the England fans around, stirring trouble in true tabloid sensationalist style, while broadsheet Establishment newspapers such as the Telegraph tutted their disapproval. Davies, again, referring to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico: “There was a story going round in Monterrey, there was a man from The Sun going round with a brick tied up in a note that said the brick was from England. And he’d go into bars offering fans a couple of hundred quids’ worth of pesos to put it through a shop window.”
Compare that to Germany 2006, as Denis Campbell in the Guardian noted:
On the pitch in Germany a woefully under-performing England lost respect, credibility and yet another quarter-final. Off it, though, their huge army of followers put forward a serious pitch for the unofficial title of Fans of the Tournament. ‘We’ve got the best fans in the world’, declared the Sun the Monday after England’s defeat on penalties to Portugal. The Daily Telegraph, of all people, picked up the same theme. ‘At least England’s fans played a blinder’, ran its headline. And World Cup spokesman Gerd Graus was in no doubt that ‘The English fans are the world champions of partying. They created a great atmosphere; they have a fan culture unique in the world.’ Amid such a huge number of England supporters in Germany – 100,000 were reckoned to be in Gelsenkirchen to watch David Beckham and his team-mates complete their hat-trick of last eight failures – the few arrests among them were ‘statistically irrelevant’, said Graus.
English fans are not now suddenly all sipping tea and eating scones on their travels. Disorder still follows England around (Marseilles 1998, Charleroi 2000, Stuttgart 2006), though English supporters are now often the victims instead of being the aggressors.
But the sheer numbers and vast consumption activities sees host nations drooling at the revenue England brings, rather than fearing the havoc their fans will wreak.
Yesterday, the presidents of both the Swiss and Austrian expressed their distress at England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008. The latter lamented that “It is the only teardrop for us right now. It is the only thing I regret, and I regret it very strongly indeed that England will not be involved.” 150,000-200,000 England fans had been expected to descend on the continent next summer, and the Russians won’t bring as much spending power instead.
And South Africa are apparently already concerned about the prospective economic impact on their tournament in 2010 should England continue their lamentable form.
Concern for England’s welfare assumes a range of forms. Danny Jordaan, chief executive officer for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, is mindful of the economic harm if the slump continues.
“England is very important to the World Cup,” he said. “If you look at Germany , England sold 80,000 tickets. At one stage England had more than 100,000 fans there. They are very important for the ambience and the atmosphere, and in Germany they brought an additional element – that of the wags.”
England might not bring much in terms of flowing football to the world arena any longer, but the world should hope we qualify for 2010 so that Cheryl Tweedy and Coleen McLoughlin and maybe even Victoria Beckham, in one last brave consumptive hurrah, will have the chance to give a dramatic boost to a developing economy with one of their legendary spending sprees.