Special to Page 2
Day 3: The Column of Death
Yokohama, The Media Center Viewing Room, 9.51 a.m.
Can't bring myself to watch eight goals scored by Germans so I decide to watch the Denmark vs. Uruguay game from Saturday instead.
Very entertaining. The Uruguayans are so good off the ball. In fact, they don't really need a ball at all. They would be utterly content, it seems, if they could have the ball eliminated from the game altogether. That way they could just play their game, "foot" they could call it, and just run around the field kicking their opponents, tugging their shirts, pulling them to the ground and occasionally feigning injury or injustice and having a jolly good whinge at the referee.
The highlight of the game though is the performance of Stig Tofting, one of my favorite hard men in world football. The Danish playmaker tops my list of ...
The 10 greatest player names at the World Cup
1. Stig Tofting, Denmark
- Hard and bald. Excellent combination.
2. Gaetan Englebert, Belgium
- Fortunately for him, never been in jail in a English-speaking country.
3. Macbeth Sibaya, South Africa
- "Do I kill the King or score a goal? Kill the king or score a goal?"
4. Kaka, Brazil
- It's juvenile, but funny.
5. David Seaman, England
- Ditto but still makes me laugh after all these years. Maybe it's the ponytail.
6. Doo Ri Cha, South Korea
- ... fa, so, lah, te, doh!
7. Bo Qu, China
- Backup striker who certainly doesn't score bo qu. Zero goals for his country.
8. Wilmer Lopez, Costa Rica
- Of the Costa Rican Flintstone-Lopezes.
9. Torsten Frings, Germany
- Chris Berman would have fun with this. Torsten "The Postman Only" Frings twice? Torsten Frings "Can Only Get Better"?
10. Joseph-Desire Job, Cameroon
- But with M'boma, Etoo and Suffo playing ahead of him up front, might not get a job playing World Cup football.
- Francesco Totti, Wellington Sanchez, Bosko Balaban, Arkadiusz Bak, Muzzy Izzet and Pape Bouba Diop.
Tokyo Station 12.55 p.m.
The level of service from Japan Rail is phenomenal. I am spotted from the end of the platform by two English"ish" speaking JR employees who escort me to the ticket counter for the Joetsu Shinkansen to Omiya station, no more than a thirty minute ride north of Tokyo where I will jump in a taxi to take me to Saitama stadium. I am leaving early for the England vs. Sweden game so I can watch the other opening "group of death" match up, Argentina vs. Nigeria, at the stadium media center.
At the ticket counter it's like a scene out of Star Trek, all touch screens and flashing lights as Sulu gives me a window seat in first.
I was expecting the station to be crawling with England fans, but I could count them on one hand, a couple of white England shirts and a couple of '66 vintage red. Seems strange. Probably down the pub.
Saitama Stadium Media Center, 2.20 p.m.
There's a real buzz about the place and it is crammed with the best football writers on the planet. I recognize the British ones and I am in the presence of Gods. Their names won't mean much to most of you but I spend some time writing next to Simon Barnes of The Times of London, you have to read his stuff to understand how good he is. I'm pleased to see he's much less cool than he appears to be in his newspaper photo. In fact he looks a bit like a character from "The Simpsons." He would be teaching yoga to Marge or throwing eggs at Mr.Burns. Very crunchy.
He's sitting in a group with some of the Times World Cup Staff, I recognize them from their photos. I am in danger of becoming a groupie so I leave the main press room and head into the restaurant area where I see the commentator Barry Davies (no relation, unfortunately), former player John Barnes, and managers Graham Taylor and Ron Atkinson. He looks wonderfully miserable and the game hasn't even started yet.
I spend some time also with Ty Keough and Jack Edwards, who are covering the game for ABC. These guys and their team could not be nicer, really passionate about the game, constantly trying to improve and they're open to ideas. I give Ty my thoughts on the England team and an interesting way of explaining the way they play to an U.S. audience: David Beckham is the primary quarterback, Michael Owen and Darius Vassell the speedy receivers, Emile Heskey the tight end. You can extend the NFL analogy all the way through the outfield; Danny Mills and Ashley Cole are the full backs/running backs, Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand the rocks of the defensive line. Then it breaks down when you realize that Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves are also quarterbacks and on the field at the same time as Beckham. Probably not legal. Yet.
Outside Entrance A, 4.05 p.m.
I go for a walk with some of the other members of the ABC/ESPN team. We want to shoot some crowd noise as thousands of England fans, stream into the stadium. But in stark contrast to yesterday's Ireland crowd, these England fans who outnumber the Irish contingent by what seems like 2 to 1, could not be quieter. This makes me feel uneasy. The loudest group we find are members of a several hundred strong Japanese contingent, their faces painted with the George Cross, singing the right songs, wearing the right clothes but they aren't scaring anyone. Frankly, I want a bit of intimidation. Not trouble. But just a hint of hardness. The English fans here look like couples on their honeymoons, like respectable suburban dwellers from middle class homes. Some of them look, well, posh.
The riot police, literally, in the thousands, look completely and utterly baffled. This isn't what they've spent six months training for.
Media Tribune. 6.25 p.m.
The England fans away to the left make a right cock up of singing the national anthem, stopping after the first verse as the band played on. Granted, no one knows the words to the second and third verses, not even sure they exist. But it didn't seem right on the Queen's Golden Jubilee.
Worse though is the general volume. During the player introductions, their cheers are completely drowned out by the Japanese, especially when Beckham and Owen are mentioned and the Japanese, as we have already discussed, are the quietest people on the planet.
Already in the warmups I noticed the England contingent's general lack of volume, range of repertoire and responsiveness. There is no bond established with the players, unlike with Ireland on Saturday, who looked nervous as hell. That might, though, have been down to the ridiculously rigorous nature of the choreographed warm up. That Italian trainer of theirs was wearing them out, surely.
Sweden on the other hand were just knocking the ball around, laughing with each other, playing close to their thousand or so fans, a sea of blue and yellow to the right. They sing well, the Swedes, they move as one, like a Bjorn Borg collective, and bring along very fit looking women.
All in all it's not easy to dislike the Swedes. Which is bloody annoying before such a big game.
The Media Tribune, final score 1-1, 8.30 p.m.
It's been over for a while but I'm still in my seat. I could write pages about the game, break down the individual performances and tell you everything that went right and the more that went wrong. But I'm not unhappy with a draw.
What I am unhappy with is the England fans. Teams need support, look at the Irish if you want an example. I'm glad the drunken, violent yobs were prevented from entering the country, but are the rest of us such sheep that without them we can't behave like passionate nonviolent drunken yobs and give our team something better than a feeble, occasional, "Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land, Eng-er-land."
The English team played a bad second half. The England supporters had a bad warm up, and stunk throughout the game.
Ten minutes before the end of the first half, a sizeable pocket of England fans pulled out the inevitable "Are you Scotland in disguise?" The Sweden answer, emphatic in the second half was "No we're not actually, we're Sweden and you've still never beaten us".
Not at anything I can remember: tennis, yoghurt, cars, furniture, rape and pillage or football.
Bloody Swedes. I'm even marrying one this summer.Michael Davies, a native of London, is executive producer of ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He'll be filing five diary entries per week from the World Cup for Page 2.