Draw like a victory for delusional fan
Oh, what joy to be a fan of a pedestrian England team and with the smart money on another spectacular underachievement at an international tournament. For first time in my 37-odd years following the Three Lions we have never had it so good. Down in deepest, darkest Donetsk and around the large TV screens flickering over captivated crowds gathered at the hosts' football epicentres, there was a dignified and quiet satisfaction after the draw against the French. Pessimism is the new hope and a draw marked against game seven in the official programme is scientifically a win. There is also grand relief we are done with the media hype, jingoism and false dawns that previously indulged themselves whenever an England squad squared up to the far superior international footballing community.
I joined the modest gathering of my compatriots in the Bull Dog English pub located a few minutes' walk from the fan zone in central Warsaw. I was late after yomping the kilometre across the Poniatowski Bridge and had just bought my pint of Spitfire English ale when Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott took us all by surprise and headed in Steve Gerrard's free kick. Pre-Roy Hodgson, an England goal would have sent a pub full of English fans ballistic and cast a shower of cheap beer into the atmosphere, soaking the pogo-ing souls and staining their white and red shirts. But the reaction here was more akin to a cricket match in the dog-days of late afternoon overs.
'Good goal, that,' said England fan Sam. We had to keep a lid on things, mind. For a while it looked like Hodgson's men were going to give Laurent Blanc's Le Blues a proper English spanking. And though you'd never have admitted it publicly, I detected other English minds in the room whirring frantically like mine - admiring the spirited opening minutes of the hard-working young pride and ridiculously dreaming of a glorious sunny evening in Kiev on July 1 . . .
'Step up, step up! Push!' someone yelled at the TV screen. That someone was me and I checked myself with a loud tut at the French laying siege to Joe Hart's goal. 'You can't dig in like this. Gerrard's on the defences' toes...' I remark to the muted Sam, who, lost in concentration, nodded manically. 'It's how Roy's set them up,' he said as Florent Malouda and Franck Ribery circled the English penalty box like sharks sensing a shoal of sardines. 'But with tenacious defending like this we could...' went the optimistic voices in a score of English heads . . . Wallop! Thank goodness for Samir Nasri bringing us back down to earth. We were all getting carried away again.
With the pub lacking atmosphere, I headed up to the fan zone for the second half and watched with Portuguese fan Pablo, Chinese neutral Fan-Fan, a Beijing student on an exchange programme, and Thomas Szramowski, a Pole succumbing to a spiritual calling even if he sounded distinctly German. Thomas, 22, and his mother fled their native Poland to Germany in 1996. 'My mother wanted a better life for us but my father stayed behind. I grew up in Germany, but I am Pole,' said the plastics factory worker from Dortmund. Had he driven over to see his dad and come to watch the Russian-Poland game? 'No. I lost contact with my father. And I don't have a ticket for the game. But it's such an important match, the history between us and Russia, I just felt I had to come. I am German - but always I will always be a Pole!'
Much of my remaining time in Warsaw has been spent intelligence-gathering about routes south to the Ukraine. Pablo went by bus to watch the Germany- Portugal game in Lviv. 'It was nightmare,' he said. 'It took hours at the border. It might be quicker in a car. Lviv is hell hole. No one speaks English but all the Ukrainians are really helpful and I never experienced any problems. All these reports about widespread racism are rubbish. I'm not going back, though.'
On the screen, England were lying so deep under the wave of blue shirts it looked as if they were defending in Devon and not Donetsk. 'Allez les Blancs!' I yelled at the screen and multi-linguistic Fan-Fan guffawed and a few cockerel heads in the crowd looked round and smiled
'You're defending too deep. You want a draw. You are as frustrating as Portugal. All we do is attack but we never score,' said Pablo. No, no Pablo, I said, you have it all wrong. I am dreamer and I believe England should win all their games and all tournaments, all the time, every time. It's called delusion and you can never run from it or drive a few kilometres miles in a drafty Land Rover to escape its clutches. It never leaves you.