The Fan - Hunter Davies risks deep vein thrombosis

I feared deep vein thrombosis during those first two weeks, sitting slumped in my chair for up to si

Before the Sweden match, I was so full of confidence - the signs were suddenly good, Bex was in his heaven, all was right with the world. Then came that awful, stupid long-ball performance. And I began to go off Sven.

Before Argentina, I was half wanting it to be all over; watching England was too depressing, too stressful, the sooner they got kicked out, the better, before they really got stuffed. With England gone, I'd be able to settle down and watch the rest of the World Cup in peace and tranquillity. Then came that wonderful performance against Argentina.

Before Nigeria, I was trying so hard to be calm and balanced, not be carried away, reminding myself they hadn't really been all that wonderful against Argentina. The penalty was fortunate, and they were bloody lucky to survive the last 20 minutes.

It was a foolish tactic, retreating totally into their own half, with not one striker upfield. Every time they cleared, it went straight to the opposition. Always better to keep at least one man up front, on his own, then they have to put two defenders on him. Sven,what were you doing? But it worked.

On the other hand, it does take skill to play negatively. It's all part of football, defending and frustrating the opposition, hanging on to what you have. But dear God, what they put us through in those first two games - even worse on Wednesday against Nigeria.

When Sven appeared in his black tie, I thought shit. Then, when the crowd started singing the national anthem in the middle of the second half, when nothing was happening and both England and Nigeria were playing in their sleep, boring the whole world, I thought heh up, it's a funeral. That's why he's got that tie.

But England crept through to the next round, thus confounding all the experts, except moi. Oh yes, I said they would, but I also expected Argentina to go with them, and meet France in the final. OK, let's not talk about predictions.

I now feel I can relax more, count the blessings, England against Denmark gives them a good chance, and, so far, I haven't had deep vein thrombosis. I feared I would, during those first two weeks, sitting slumped in my chair for up to six hours every day. Eight hours one day, when there were four live games. It's been like flying to the Caribbean every day for a fortnight, I don't know how I've survived. Yes I do. Same as on long flights. I eat and drink all the way there.

Now we're down to two games a day to watch, with some days off next week for good behaviour, the tension and strain and exhaustion should be far less. And if England and Ireland do get beaten now, it won't be such a disgrace. Why, I might even start enjoying it.

There's been a negative pleasure in watching France and Argentina go out, which I tried and failed to resist. The positive pleasure has been watching Japan and Korea. Their delight has been so innocent, celebrating like sweet young boys, not nasty, cynical old men. They have imported everything about the game from us - the rules, the words, the tactics, the shirt-tugging, as well as the hairstyles and jewellery, aping our western stars, but they haven't yet acquired hatred of the other team, like the Argentinians and the English. Oh yes, we're just as bad. When the Japs and Koreans score, they take pleasure in their own achievement without being triumphalistic, their faces contorted with neither revenge nor hate. That will all change.

The crowds have been a pleasure, supporters of all countries good-humoured, dressed for a party, not for a killing, wearing national costumes, or joke versions of what they think the rest of the world assumes are their national costumes. My favourite image so far has been the Nigerian fan in tribal costume banging away on a tribal drum - while talking on his mobile phone. I wondered which message would get home first to his mum - his drum message, via the television, or his words on the phone.

Uruguay sent out a message by being the only country wearing vintage strips, their blue shirts laced up at the neck, just as they were in the 1920s. It was to remind us that Uruguay is one of the world's oldest footballing nations, winner of the first World Cup in 1930.

Mick McCarthy is one of the few coaches who writes notes during a game. He also wears football shorts and socks, as if ready to come on as a sub. The message here, Roy Keane please note, is that I am part of the team, one of the happy family, but also modern and professional. In other words, I am not a crap manager.

Nor is Sven, despite what I was beginning to think a week ago. In fact, I'm getting quite buoyant once again. Oh no. I must stop this. I know one is meant to suffer as an England supporter, and surely we've been through enough, yet the message from three games is bad, good, not bad, which could mean the best is yet to come . . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 June 2002 issue of the New Statesman, The new Ireland kicks ass