Sept 2002



During the world cup I was caught up with a riotous group of football hooligans in the centre of Moscow in Manezh Square, near the Kremlin. Some 8,000 fans had gathered to watch the afternoon game between Russia and Japan. The city government had erected a huge outdoor screen so that Muscovites could enjoy the tournament in the basking weather. Drunken mobs, made up predominantly of young men, set fire to cars, broke windows and beat up anyone from fellow fans to police officers as the Russian national team lost to Japan. I had to take sanctuary and duck from vodka and beer bottles that went sailing into the air. People were running in all directions. The aftermath was total destruction with a mass of broken glass and damaged shop windows surrounded by blood smeared and burnt out cars. Sadly, two people were killed and several Japanese students were severely beaten.

English fans need to be congratulated. They have given English football a new face-lift on the international stage. Replacing the grotesque and repulsive side of mob violence with decency and affability. Throughout the nation a great sense of national pride has griped every section of the community. It has been inspiring to see the St George’s Cross flying from car roofs and windows with a sense of celebration and joy emanating from every colour of skin and faith tradition.

Emotion, drama and art have been in bountiful, supply. Optimism, pessimism and in some instances a mild case of mental dehydration has seized the mindset of the international community as we’ve embraced "World Cup mathematics for beginners." The tournament of 2002 will be recorded in the history books as the minefield of surprises, where the underdogs tested, and in some cases, eliminated the teams perceived as the stronger and more talented. France made the catastrophic start in defending its title and paved the way for astonishment lived out on the football pitch. Commentators have had to eat humble pie as unlikely winners have stifled their predictions. Argentina out, Ireland forcing Spain to a penalty shoot out, have given this World Cup an air of promise for the loser. The departure, before the tournament began, of Roy Keane created a sense of helplessness for the Irish. However, in the area where Ireland lacked Roy Keane, Spain still felt the need to bring on a fifth midfield player.

With no one individual to hold responsibility, the Irish team all bore the success together and faced their defeat with a sense of pride in what they’ve achieved.. England has also shown tremendous team spirit. We could have even got to the final if we hadn’t met Brazil. We entered the match as the underdogs. However, we tested the world’s finest team.

England can be proud of its perseverance, determination and team spirit.

Confidence has grown with each game. Football can provide us with a deeper insight to our human fragility and vulnerability. Strength and success does not last forever. Vulnerability and weakness have also to be embraced. However, we can grow through the frail instrumentality of one another.

Success is not all about winning; it’s learning how to celebrate defeat.

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