Beesotted are heading off to Russia for the World Cup. Against all advice, Billy Grant has packed his bags and will be following England as they aim to upset the applecart and bring back a trophy back home – whilst remaining fairly under the radar – for the first time in over 50 years.
It’s about that time again when fans from all over the world converge on one country to cheer on their team deep in the belief that their team can win the greatest prize on the international footballing stage – the World Cup.
When Russia was announced as World Cup hosts, I have to admit was gutted. And I wasn’t the only one. There were a lot of unhappy fans around the world. For those who travel regularly to tournaments around the world, we knew that Russia would pose additional challenges.
Their football fans’ history of brutal violence coupled with a slightly less-than-tolerant attitude to race, sexuality as well as a cult-like love of their political leaders didn’t have too many people jumping for joy with the prospect of them being chosen to be our hosts for a month.
Having been to six previous World Cups (and six European Championships) naturally I wanted to ensure that my seventh Mondial was ceremonially chalked-off. A country that hasn’t been visited before makes the chalking-off process extra special. When Russia was announced, I was looking to instruct the teacher to wheel the blackboard back into the corner.
I love the World Cup.
Much much more than the European Championships. Because it is a truly global competition. A truly colourful competition. You get fans flying in from literally all over the globe. Of all races and colours. Rich countries. Poor countries. Some from countries steeped in football culture. Others from countries new to the game but absolutely brimming with excitement and enthusiasm.
Bonkers Japanese fans. ‘Happy to be there’ Chilean fans. Super friendly Swedeish fans. All night soca partying Trinidadians. Confident (did I say verging on arrogant? No I didn’t) American fans. Sombrero-wearing Mexican fans (every time). All the stereotypes you want rolled into one one happy tournament.
The fact that you can meet an Argentinian fan. And a Nigerian fan. And an Egyptian fan. And a Chilean fan. And a Brazilian fan. And a Saudi fan … er .. actually probably not. All in the same bar on opening day. And they will all be convinced that they will win the World Cup is for me what the competition is all about.
However, having witnessed personally the violence and thuggery of the Russian hooligans in Marseilles , I made a decision a while back that my World Cup tour was over. Enough was enough. And like many other England fans, we were to make Euro France 2016 our final swan-song.
We were going to bail out on Russia.
Roll on six months, sitting in The Lions Pub in Wembley Stadium. It was the VIP (meaning your name got pulled out of a hat) England fans’ World Cup draw party. Free beer and food and a chance to hang out with your mates for the afternoon discussing how much you were going to miss not going to this tournament. I went down with the usual characters who have popped up in my travel blogs over the years – Spanish Dave, Val, Obi, Phil, Mark – expecting this event to be the closest I got to the Russian World Cup.
With our eyes half glued to the screen the commentator says:
“And England Will Play Belgium in Kaliningrad”
Where the hell is Kaliningrad? We looked at our maps. Blimey. That’s Poland-plus. We can get there no problem. Before wyou could utter the words “Tired Sterling”, the laptops were out. The draw hadn’t even finished and we had our plane tickets booked. We were going to the World Cup.
And for for £120.
What a bargain.
Six months later – amidst the hysteria of BME and gay fans being told that they in particular needed to watch their back contradicted by my Russian hosts telling me it was all nonsense and they were mega excited to have so many foreign people visiting their country – I buckled once again. Against all advice, I booked a flight to England’s first game in Volgograd with only a week to go before the tournament started.
Having relayed my fears of travelling to Russia on the Victoria Derbyshire show on BBC2 as well as BBC 1, BBC World and Channel 5 news, BBC Radio 5 and a whole heap of BBC regional stations, it seemed the more I spoke the more it seemed that I was talking myself into going.
The fear I initially had was turning to nervous excitement.
So here we are on the eve of the World Cup. I’m throwing my last belongings into the suitcase alongside the bits and pieces of English memorabilia I was asked to bring over. Tea was high up on the request list. And not just any old tea. Good tea. They certainly seemed to know their stuff. A TeaPigs order went in. And with it being a local Brentford tea (Brentford everywhere), I was more than happy to stock up – thinking to myself “These Russians seem to have great taste” Who was to know?
I have to say, this World Cup will not be the same without a number of stalwart tournament travellers who I normally hang around with every four years.
First of all is Actor Ralph Brown and his lovely wife actress Jenny Jules. I met Ralph on a train to Toulouse in France during World Cup 98 as he was on making his way down the carriage trying to flog tickets for South Africa’s final group match. With his wife Jenny, we’ve done pretty much every tournament together since then and even shared a huge house in Sandton, Johannesburg for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa – visiting the townships of Soweto and Alexandra more times than you can imagine on that trip. Wonderful country. A lot of problems. But a wonderful country with lovely people.
Big Val has been an ever present (bar Germany 2006) since I met him in Japan in 2002 – a tournament which will go down as the best World Cup EVER. Without the inconvenience of mobile phones (our English phones didn’t work in Japan back in the day), we had to do the old fashioned thing of arranging to meet someone in a bar the following day at a particular time. And having to be there. It was great. We would bump into each other literally everywhere. Tokyo. Sapporo. Osaka. I met a lot of people on that World Cup who have gone on to be friends (football friend) ever since.
The win against Argentina followed by the all night party that took place in pretty much every bar in Sapporo City Centre – joined by thousands of completely bonkers but delighted to party with us Japanese folk – will live long in my memory. Click this link to check the fan video – a rare view on the view from a fans’ perspective at a time when fans did not have videos on phones. It’s pretty special.
Big Val has decided to give the early stages of the tournament a miss this time. He claims he’ll join us for the semi-final. I sincerely hope he will as that would make this World Cup England’s best since 1990.
And of course there is King Tut. We travelled to pretty much every England game together all over there world (tournaments. qualifiers. friendlies) from 1998 (France World Cup) to 2006 (Germany World Cup) bar Japan in 2002 when he bailed on me – a lot of games. That included the fantastic trip for the friendly in South Africa in 2003 with Biscuits, Iggy, Gravy, Big Russ and Questions (whatever happened to him eh? We called him Questions because .. well quite frankly he asked too many questions. Far too many questions. Don’t think we saw him again after that trip).
That was the trip when we had nowhere to stay in Cape Town and the British High Commissioner at the time, the lovely Ann Grant (great name) put us all up in the high commissioners mansion for the duration of our journey. Absolute mint. Questions wasn’t happy as he dropped us off on his way to his youth hostel.
And then there’s Laney – fellow Beesotted blogger and podcaster and videoblogger. We’ve done many of the tournaments together in some form or the other since France 98. That was an interesting tournament starting off with a trip to Lens to see the Reggae Boyz take on Croatia who were playing in their first ever World Cup. That was closely followed by a trip to Marseilles to see England play Tunisia in city with an atmosphere anthesis of the atmosphere I had just experienced the day before in Lens. The journey culminated with defeat to Argentina in St Etienne – one of the most exciting games I have EVER been to with an unbelievable atmosphere inside the stadium to boot.
However, the Russian attack in Marseilles was enough to put him off going this time. Shame. Lets hope the event goes off without any sign of trouble.
Anyway I digress. It’s about that time to hit the road.
You can follow my blog here on Beesotted. And follow me on twitter (@billythebee99)
You can also check out any videos I post on Beesotted YouTube or via the videos link at the top of the Beesotted website.
Podcast will be on our Podcast Channel or you can click on the Audio link at the top of the Beesotted website. .
And pictures (if I get a chance) – I may even re-ignite my instagram (@billythebee99) for the first time since 2012.
Until the next update ….
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