Swede revenge in the England camp, now for Donetsk

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 June, 2012, 12:00am


This was no way to run a tight ship on a passage to the edge of Europe. I am sure the great course plotters, Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan among them, were not obsessively results-driven like this Euro 2012 explorer. But following England guarantees that navigation into the proverbial Bermuda football triangle - aka Poland and Ukraine - is fraught with difficulties and frustrations.

Having a mare with the score and maps, we were - England and I. First, the campsite cafe-bar where I watched the England game was near empty except for some retired French watching France dismantle Ukraine after the Donetsk deluge, and a few Russians and Germans.

Shattered after a long drive back from Gdansk and the Ireland vSpain game, and late because of extra time spent in the port city's quaint old quarter listening to the hungover, sleepless Irish singing, I settled down to deride, like most of England, Hodgson's decision to play Andy Carroll and then enjoy victory over a creaking Sweden.

You never really know your fellow football supporters until you've watched the great game with them in the communal bar of a suburban Polish campsite. On kick off, the Russians started playing darts, pool and shuffling poker cards. The Germans were more respectful and settled down with a large beer and rubbed their hands, pretending to be on my side and declaring England were a strong team. The wine-supping French retirees gave me indifferent looks as I gently applauded the line-up (except Carroll).

Perhaps, one mused as the darts annoyingly thudded and the pool balls clicked, the disinterested Russians were colour blind and could not tell, given the yellow and blue kits, the difference between the pony-tailed Liverpool striker Carroll from the equally strapping but far more effective pony-tailed Ibrahimovic. But they shot looks at the TV screen when the lone England supporter - dropped Land Rover keys spinning across the floor - loudly whooped and clapped when Carroll rose like a dove on steroids and powerfully headed England in front. The Germans looked on blankly and the French cocked their heads and one said quietly to his friend: 'Les Anglais jouent bien.' Oui, and it was settled in my mind - it's off to Donetsk, then, on another 1000-mile ride to watch the Three Lions take Ukraine modestly to the cleaners, and finish top of group D and play Italy or Croatia in the quarter-finals, a simple task playing like that, surely.

Having witnessed the Spanish slay the Irish, England do not want to finish second. If they do, then in the quarter-finals they would face near-certain winners of group C, Spain, and then it would be early doors from the knockout stage.

Such wishful thinking was not long-lived. Calamity soon struck and characteristic English carelessness let in another dog's breakfast of a goal. The Germans leapt up, issuing whoops of unbridled joy. The Russians put down their darts and cues and cards and started chatting and pointing at the screen. And one of the French smiled, I think sympathetically. 'Not so sure about Donetsk,' my inner voice said. Sulking, the map of the Ukraine in my mind's eye became peppered with potholes, gridlock, accidents, tractors, biblical floods and traffic cops looking for a handout.

Then Mellberg again! Unmarked, he headed past the static Hart to put Sweden ahead. Like Hodgson's men, the road to the Ukraine was falling apart, disintegrating before me. The Germans were back on their feet cheering. The Russians drew up chairs, captivated. And I kid not, one of the French issued an 'Ooh la-la'. Forget Donetsk. Like Timbuktu before GPS, that coal town near the Russian border does not exist - a mere traveller's myth. 'Which way is it to Dover?' I asked aloud of my fellow Europeans, and the Germans and French laughed though I am not sure if it was in appreciation of my English humour or at my humiliation.

But this is England. Walcott came on for Milner and the young Gunner fired a swerving rocket past the wrong-footed Isaksson - 2-2! I was spontaneously on my feet, applauding loudly, and I reached again for the route-planner in my head. 'Donetsk is far, but not that far,' came the reassuring thoughts. The Germans, Russian and French looked on with the same concern as the Swedish fans in the stands in Kiev, the yellow and blue biting their nails, hands covering shocked faces.

'Go on, Theo!' issued the English campsite table as Walcott raced into the Swede's penalty box. The Polish woman behind the bar shot me a scowl - then looked aghast as a camper from pitch seven erupted and nearly knocked over his tea mug when match winner Welbeck cheekily flicked England in front.

On the final whistle the Germans came over and shook my hand - 'You like penalties?', one quipped. One of the French tipped his plastic camping crystal at me in salute and one of the Russians, who had ridden his motorbike from Moscow to watch Russia take on Greece in Warsaw, later strolled over to my Land Rover. 'What a strong car. Is it army? What size engine? Aluminium, yes? ' he asked, tapping the side panels and peering inside at the vehicle, which is built not for comfort and speed but endurance and the unexpected.

'English car. Very strong!,' he said, beaming with admiration. It better be. It is crossing the line, as Magellan et al might say - and is off to Donetsk.

The Germans and French laughed, though I am not sure if it was at my English humour or at my humiliation