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16 October 2008

Cheers and jeers

England's celebrity players face an uncertain reception

By Hunter Davies

On the way to Wembley, I gave my two companions a warning. “Remember,” I said, “Fabio has told us there must be no booing, is that understood?” “Ah, but that doesn’t mean we have to suspend our critical faculties,” one of them replied.

Both my companions were barristers, one a QC, so you have to expect such pedantic remarks. As we walked down Olympic Way, they were discussing the finer points of some case at The Hague, while I counted the names on the England shirts – ten Rooneys, nine Gerrards, three Beckhams, one Walcott – a more than ample scientific survey, which proved, hmm, I couldn’t quite decide, apart from the fact that those must be the England fans’ favourite players.

We were in the club class seats, ever so posh. As we entered, we encountered a champagne and seafood bar. Don’t get that at Carlisle United.

We weren’t in the very top club class seats, so we didn’t get free food and drink, just a programme, but they were excellent seats. They belong to the QC. He and two friends bought a pair each when the new Wembley opened. He’s not exactly a football fan, supports no club in particular, but he fell in love with the stadium when he was taken on a tour and has been to every England game since.

“If it’s not a rude question,” I asked, “how much did you pay?” He thought, in that languid way top barristers think. “Do you know, I can’t remember, but I think there was a two in it.” “Two thousand, twenty-two thousand?” I suggested, but he didn’t know.

There was an air of huge excitement, all tickets sold – yet it was only Kazakhstan, whom England should always stuff.

The biggest cheer was when Becks warmed up. Bloody hell, cheering for a deadbeat who should never have been in the squad

Most people didn’t appear well-off, yet they had paid fortunes for their tickets, or someone had. You can’t tell the well-off these days, especially at football matches. Look at Roman Abramovich, what a tramp. Or me. Who would believe I am mega-rich and have all my own teeth? From the accents, I’d say the majority of the crowd were ordinary Londoners determined to enjoy the day and support England. Which surprised me, considering how useless, annoying, disappointing, hopeless, infuriating England have been for the past 40 years.

In the first half England were rubbish, but the stupid England band kept playing and a loudmouth family behind me was bellowing in my ear, shouting well done Stevie Gee, even when it was Frank Lampard. In fact, the whole crowd was more than willing to cheer the slightest thing, like one England player passing to another. But the biggest cheer was when David Beckham warmed up. Bloody hell, cheering for a deadbeat, yesterday’s man, who should never have been in the squad. It was then I decided that most of Wembley’s 90,000 crowd were not football fans but celebrity fans – hence the champagne bar, the players’ names on shirts, the cheers for Becks.

At half-time, I didn’t hear any boos, though they would have been deserved, but a lot of groans. It was in the 68th minute that the first real boos started, directed at Ashley Cole after his stupid mistake. It was just from one part of the ground, probably started by Arsenal fans waiting to get at him, but it was also out of frustration after England’s first-half performance. I did hear people mentioning his greed for money and his treatment of his fragrant wife. With celeb players today, we all know about their bad personal behaviour as well as their bad play. So, if you have fans of celebs at football games, they can easily turn nasty.

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