Cuda's roaming investigator Chris Reilly meet's the top brass in the VIP lounge at the England V Sweden game;    

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''My mate rang on Friday and said he had a ticket for me to see England v Sweden on Tuesday in Cologne, with the bonus of another to see Togo v Switzerland on Monday in Dortmund if I could make it in time.

Its pricey to fly across the Atlantic this time of year so in spite of his “you only live once” entreaties I initially turned him down. Luckily though I found I had enough air miles for a return flight from New York to Frankfurt, booked the flight Saturday and on Sunday night was on my way to The World Cup. The World Cup – I just couldn’t believe it.

I landed in Frankfurt Monday morning and by 11.30 found my way to the railway station. Dortmund is a three hour ride from
Frankfurt airport. The game was to kick off at 3 so I was cutting it fine. As I was only going to be in Germany for two days, it would have been a bad start to miss the first match so I went for it.

I ran into the stadium two minutes after kick off. My mates wife and three kids were sitting in the stand and were totally surprised when I rolled into the spare seat beside them as Switzerland scored their first goal. I’m the eldest ones godfather so we’d kept my arrival a secret – smiles all round!

The stadium in Dortmund was a sea of red Swiss shirts and it seemed as if the whole Swiss Nation was there to cheer on their team – I’m told that one of the reasons why Swiss fans are generally quite quiet is because half of them speak German and half speak French so no ones quite sure what to sing at a soccer match. Not at this World Cup though, as the stadium was a sea of noise as the Swiss played to a solid victory over a dispirited Togo. By the end, the Togo medicine man, in his traditional dress and painted in green head to toe, was a rather disconsolate figure, sitting in the drizzle wondering what might have been.

No such worries for me though. You see my mate had got me a VIP ticket, which got me access to all the hospitality and top brass areas. So while the Togo medicine man was enjoying the rain of Dortmund and contemplating his damp tent in some distant carpark, I was making myself comfortable in the luxurious VIP lounge as I  wolfed down as much five star German hospitality as I could get my hands on. This world cup has been organized with an efficiency that only the Germans could manage and part of that effort apparently included emptying the country’s model agencies  and getting the very smartly dressed and extremely attractive ladies to look after the VIPs. I mean, I felt like the King of Togo – just a raised hand or a blink of the eye would bring an enquiry for more champagne, beer, food, whatever from another stunning Aryan beauty.

Close by, The Kaiser himself was holding court. Franz Beckenbauer has led the organization of this World Cup and as such he has cemented his position as the most famous man in Germany. My friends’ kids wanted to get his autograph and he obliged very generously, though I regretfully bottled out of trying to get a photo with him. I have no doubt he wouldn’t have minded. Nice bloke anyway.

Once we’d had our fill it was back to the hotel to pack (and shower in my case – I was humming nicely after the all night journey from New York followed by the race to Dortmund, the match and subsequent 20 beers) and on to Cologne.

We stayed outside the city in a Bavarian style country inn. The dozen or so guests were all either English or Swedish and most spent the evening watching the Spanish match while guzzling more of the excellent German beer. Eventually the Spanish cracked it – Arsenal’s  Fabregas is starting to emerge as a star in this tournament. Tales circulated of hordes of England fans in the city without tickets and we were all pleased we’d stayed away from Cologne the night before the match.

Tuesday morning we were up early as everyone wanted to get into town and experience the atmosphere. My friends were staying in the Hyatt hotel across the river from the City center and after discovering that the only other room left in the city was a one star at a hefty 800 euros per night, I decided to stay up all night and catch the first train to the airport. We put our stuff in the rooms and then walked over the bridge into the city centre.

And what a scene! There were crowds of  England fans thronging the entire core of Cologne. Every bar, restaurant table was filled to bursting. Wherever we walked we’d hear the dirge of “Engerland, Engerland, Engerland”. It wasn’t just English fans though, mixed in were fans from every other country in the tournament, most ticketless and all just there for the party. While there were a fair few of the usual shirtless, tattooed, scary looking thugs, the English contingent was otherwise almost completely made up of ordinary Brits there to lap up the atmosphere, support their team and to enjoy this marvelous festival of sport. Even the thugs seemed in good humour as they amused themselves with their anthems of “ten British bombers” and “I’d rather be a cabbage than a Swede”. It was really great to see the rest of the English mixing politely and amicably with their German hosts and everyone else.

'I'd rather be a cabbage than a swede' England fan

Every spare wall or hoarding throughout the centre was draped with a St.George flag bearing the name of some town or village or team from Engerland. Mingling in the crowds were a number of London Policemen in their distinctive uniforms and helmets who added to the festival atmosphere as they chatted to their visiting countrymen, Germans, Swedes and other curious fans.

We had lunch in a café close to Cologne’s magnificent cathedral after which my friends’ kids decided they wanted a bit of a rest. We said goodbye and I spent a couple of hours wandering around watching the crowds grow ever bigger as more and more trainloads and planeloads of supporters arrived.

The Germans had set up two “fan” areas along the river, each with a capacity of thirty to forty thousand to enable visitors and Germans alike to watch matches on the big screen. By 4 o’clock, these were both packed with those who wanted to watch the
Germany game. The one in the town centre was primarily full of Germans, and was cordoned off when it became too full. The surrounding bars were packed to the rafters with English fans who engaged in a chanting match with the Germans. A huge roar greeted the first German goal and this led to an amazingly loud exchange of “Deutschland, Engerland, Deutschland, Engerland….”. – All good natured but I was starting to wonder how long it would last especially as a quite a few of the younger English lot were showing signs of being rather over served.

I took a bunch of photos and stopped for a quick beer – it was very hot and becoming very humid. I chatted with the bloke next to me – a taxi driver from London. He’d come on the train just for the crack. Back at the hotel, we got ready for the big match. We’d decided to go at 6 o’clock to have a few hours before the match started at 9pm and to try to avoid the inevitable crush as hordes of fans headed to the stadium about 10km outside the city. The television news speculated that there were well over a hundred thousand Engerland fans in the city, most of whom didn’t have tickets. Apart from an incident the night before, there had been few arrests and very little sign of trouble thus far. We crossed our fingers in hope.

The long tram ride to the stadium was enlivened by a conversation with another London Taxi driver and a bunch of lads from Burnley who had semi final tickets and were spending six weeks traveling round Germany on the fantastic railways, camping and  picking up any tickets they could on the way. While the tram queued we were passed by the Swedish fans who had decided to walk en masse to the stadium. They were all decked out head to toe in Yellow and Blue, many with Viking helmets and were an impressive and colourful sight as they filled the road for about a mile. The almost exclusively male England fans all noted that if the World Cup was a beauty parade the Swedes would win hands down, as it seems that the world cup is also very popular with female Swedes who were very numerous in the crowds that passed us by.

Once inside the stadium, my friends’ 3 kids, decked out head to toe as they were in England gear attracted the interest of many of the TV crews and press photographers who were milling around so we had an enjoyable half hour as they posed for anyone who wanted a picture. Once again I had a VIP ticket though this time would be on my own. I had dressed reasonably smartly and went into the VIP area to be greeted by another bevy of Bavarian beauties and an even better spread than the previous night. I’d been warned to expect celebs and wasn’t disappointed as I chatted with Geoff Hurst and rubbed shoulders with Chancellor Gordon Brown and various East Enders actors and Footballers wives.

 _41791992_brownincrowd203pa.jpg Chris Reilly rubbing shoulders with the England's top brass

Again I guzzled my fill and about 45 minutes before kick off went to my seat in the VIP box. The box was otherwise empty but I got a treat as just then the England team came out to warm up. There they all were. The most famous foot in England was just a few metres away – Beckham nattered with his Swedish mentor Sven and all the England squad went through their preparations for the match. All looked serious and very focused.

I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t just dreaming and about to wake up back in New York.The stadium filled – it was about 70% full of
England fans and the anthems came and went. The first thing I noticed was that the Swedes were managing to make more noise than the English and also sang their National Anthem rather better. The match started and everyone knows the rest – Owen injured after a minute,
England then play a half of probably their best football of the tournament capped by a sensational Joe Cole goal.
At half time I had some more five star hospitality and then settled in to watch the second half demolition that was sure to come. Once again though,
England lost their way and we were grimly hanging on for the draw at the end. It was brilliant though and just fabulous to be there.

'Rooney spend most of the game screaming at his colleagues'

You see far more as a live spectator – Rooney spent most of the match screaming at his colleagues, particularly the defenders, to give him some ball. Beckham does an awful lot of instructing of the other players when off the ball, occasionally coming to the side line to talk to Sven. He spoke often during this match to Owen Hargreaves who I thought played pretty well. Future coach Steve Maclaran is very active on the touchline throughout and looked utterly enraged with Rooney at one stage as the young tyro dropped all the way back to try to get the ball. I think I’ve also figured out the amiable Giraffe Peter Crouch – that is, hes better with his feet than his head. What I mean is hes in the side because of the ariel threat posed by his height, but actually hes not a very good header of the ball but is better with the ball at his feet than other tall men.

 

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'Amiable giraffe Peter Crouch'

While in the end this was a patchy performance, this England team is evolving and I’d expect the team for the next match with Ecuador to line up as 4-5-1 with Hargreaves as a holding midfielder and Gerrard pushing up to support Rooney. Crouch would be benched. While Joe Cole has been one of our stars of this tournament (with Gerrard), we badly need him to start linking better with Ashley Cole to give the team more width. Similarly, Gary Neville, if fit, should start against
Ecuador as Carragher for all the excellence of his play, doesn’t get forward enough. While very unlikely, if Neville breaks down, I do wonder if we might not see Beckham playing Right Back with Aaron Lennon further forward before the end of the tournament.

The prevailing feeling amongst the most optimistic England fans in
Cologne is that while the team still don’t look like world beaters, Sven has got a good draw with a clear route to the final. The theory is that we’d play Holland in the quarters, Brazil in the semi and then Argentina or
Germany in the final. I have a feeling that Spain and
Portugal in particular will have quite a lot to say about that and actually wouldn’t be totally shocked if the Swedes beat the Germans. We shall see.

After the match, we adjourned to the Hyatt hotel bar and partied with the Swedes until 4 am at which point I headed for the train. The Swedes have a few anthems of their own, favourite  being to the tune of “footballs coming home” it goes “ you’re going home, you’re going home,
Englands going home”. To keep myself awake on the train I chatted with another English fan in the train’s café. What did he do? Yes, he was a London Taxi driver. So, one other piece of insight – if you’re thinking about getting a taxi in London this summer rather than risk the ferocious heat of the underground, don’t bother because all the taxi drivers are in Germany at the World Cup!

Its Wednesday now and I’m back in steamy New York less than three days after I left (in fact 65 hrs after I left). In that time I’ve flown half way round the world, visited 3 German cities, seen two football games and acquired some unforgettable memories''

Thank you Germany, it was just fabulous.