What’s that coming over the hill? Is it a monster? Is it a monster? Yes it’s Godzilla. Welcome to Japan 2002, oh and Korea.
I find it hard to get emotive over Japorea 2002. To be an England fan you have to suffer… and in Japan we didn’t really suffer. In ’86, we had the “Hand of God”. In ’90, we had Gazza’s tears and losing on penalties. In ’94 we weren’t invited to the party, and in ’98 we had Beckham’s red card and a penalty loss to the Argentineans. But in 2002, we just surrendered meekly.
I remember that year for the blazing Toronto summer and sweating my bag off in the upstairs of Scallywags. Even at midnight, the heat was oppressive and I endeavoured to replace fluids with as much lager as I could drink.
Sven had led us to the Promised Land. England’s first foreign coach had taken over from the madness of King Kev’s reign and steered us through qualification. He had already served us two marvellous memories when we triumphed 5-1 in Munich, and then we were treated to Beckham’s glorious last minute free-kick against Greece to qualify us for the World Cup proper.
Beckham-mania swept Japan. He was at the height of his stardom and he was the face of the World Cup. We were in the dreaded “Group of Death”. Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria were our opponents.
But the group games were pretty flat. A draw with Sweden was always on the cards as we hadn’t beaten them since 1968. The result: 1-1. Then we got sweet revenge against the Argentineans with Beckham and Owen playing well. We beat them 1-0 but I still didn’t get too excited about proceedings. Our final game was against Nigeria who was already on the plane home so we played a listless goalless draw.
So without much fuss or drama, we were in the Round of 16. But even this lacked passion. Denmark provided little opposition, and by half-time it was 3-0 and that’s how it would remain.
Here lied our destiny: Brazil’s Samba Boys. With so many big teams having gone home, I could see the path to glory. Win this and we would face Turkey or Senegal in the semi-finals: we could beat either of those teams easily. The World Cup Final beckoned with one decent performance.
The game was a 2:30am kick-off EST. That meant we’d all have to drink up before the game started and watch the game without a beer in our hand. Sacrilege.
Scallywags had been getting increasingly packed throughout the tournament so I turned up around 10:30pm thinking that would be fine. Uh-uh. There were hundreds of England fans trailing from the door down to the corner of Yonge and St. Clair. I stood there for 20 minutes not knowing what to do. Then a siren sent from another bar (empty as it wasn’t an England pub) enticed us all to follow her to drown us in beer and big screen TVs. I followed.
So I found myself at a completely new pub at midnight with 4 or 5 pints in front of me for my pre-match drink-a-thon. I chatted to other nervous England fans. I made friends like a child on his first day at kindergarten. I needed somebody to hold my hand and console me if things got scary.
On 23 minutes, Heskey lumped a hopeful through ball forward. Lucio muffed his control, Owen pounced and comfortably steered it past Marcos into the net. The feeling was incredible.
Ronaldinho would change the game. His goofy-toothed run in first half stoppage time would end with him sliding in Rivaldo, who made no mistake. Early in the second half, he would swing in a free-kick from out on the right touch-line. It had to be a cross, but somehow it sailed towards the far corner and Seaman stumbled backwards, only to be beat from all of 40 yards by a looping shot.
This is the England I knew. Not the one from 20 minutes ago that had Megan Fox running on with the magic sponge to administer to minor knocks. Sexy England had left the building.
Just 7 minutes later, Ronaldinho would be sent off for an over-the-ball challenge on Danny Mills. Despite having half an hour left against 10 men, we failed to muster a chance of significance. We were poor and it was a horrible way to go out of the World Cup. We’d been magnificent in defeat against Argentina and Germany but this was us exiting with a whimper. We went out like a cheap indoor firework.
I didn’t say goodbye to my new friends. Their mums were picking them up. It was four miles to walk home. I got lost in a posh neighbourhood, thinking I could find a short cut across the Don Valley. I finally got back on track and stumbled across Bloor phoning home to England on my mobile to berate whoever would pick up. As I approached my neighbourhood, people were going to work. It was 7 a.m. and a normal day was beginning. I had tears in my eyes and beer in my veins and I flailed my arms at every passing car. They understood my heartbreak, didn’t they?
I slept a drunken sleep that night. When I awoke the world was still turning. I wasn’t sure how or why, but it was. Brazil went on to win the tournament. It could have been us. It wasn’t.