Whilst England’s World Cup campaign spluttered towards the ignominy of another penalty shoot-out defeat, there was nevertheless a victory (of a sort) – that the battle to defeat English hooliganism had been well and truly won. On the streets of Cologne and Stuttgart, prior to the stilted draw with Sweden and the ugly second round win over Ecuador, the predominant theme in this fan’s eyes was ‘England United’. Hailing from Basingstoke to Blackpool and Southsea to Scarborough, fans transformed the German streets into a carnival atmosphere, with the cross of Saint George adorned with names of cities, towns and villages nationwide. One particular flag that caught the eye was emblazoned with Leeds United, Liverpool, Manchester United, and, intriguingly, Oxford United, declaring loud and proud “ENGLAND TILL I DIE”. Elsewhere fans would congregate outside bars and restaurants, starting impromptu kickabouts amongst fans who will support rival teams come the winter months.
So what does this mean for the season ahead? Has the power of fan festivities overtaken the normality of feuding supporters? If the ever-increasing hatred of Chelsea continues then it seems unlikely. But the World Cup did prove that such animosity can, at least temporarily, be put aside. The welcoming nature of the fans from the host nation also removed the threat of Anglo-German tensions (songs about German bombers aside), and whilst the Italians may have proved victorious on the pitch, the Germans off-pitch were the real World Cup winners for the splendid display of friendship through football (despite the cheesy slogan). The lessons learnt from Germany 2006 about hospitality and being accomodating should be prevalent in the run-up to the London Olympics of 2012.