December 22, 2014
England’s travelling faithful suffer in Buenos Aires
For the Herald
By Daniel Edwards
England’s chances for World Cup success already appeared remote after a 2-1 reverse against Italy left the nation bruised in the opening game in Manaus. But if fans of the country were feeling nervous in Buenos Aires, there was certainly little sign of that.
San Telmo’s Gibraltar bar was packed to the rafters with fans decked in white and red, anxious to see how Roy Hodgson’s men would react to that disappointment in the opening fixture. The venue was an obvious choice.
Owned by an Englishman, the Gibraltar bears an uncanny resemblance to a country pub back in the homeland, with curries and fish and chips replacing the usual milanesa and empanada menu. To drink, meanwhile, ales and ciders which are tough to track down elsewhere in the city appear prominently alongside Quilmes and Schneider, while litre bottles are unheard of; pint measures are the order of the day in San Telmo.
Among those present to see if England could bounce back from defeat against Uruguay was Steve, who happened to find himself in Buenos Aires in the middle of a trip travelling around South America. The football rivalry between Argentina and England is fierce, but Steve is used to it; he is a resident of Scotland, another of the ‘Three Lions’ eternal enemies in the sporting arena.
The match started with the England fans, a clear majority in the Gibraltar, in fine voice. Chants of “Ingerlund, Ingerlund, Ingerlund” and “Come on England” echoed around the tiny bar, while late-comers jostled for position on the floor after any chance of a table or chair had long evaporated. Wayne Rooney had hearts in mouths after half an hour, when he met a Steven Gerrard free-kick with a header that crashed against the bar. “Oooooooooooh”, was the collective response, and hopes rose that England’s World Cup campaign could be put back on track.
But a new blow was just around the corner. Uruguay striker Luis Suárez had not been present for his team’s defeat against Costa Rica, but he was determined to make his presence count after a miraculous recovery from surgery just four weeks prior to the World Cup. Taking advantage of slack England defending, the Liverpool man steered a clever header out of goalkeeper Joe Hart’s reach, delivering a sucker punch for those in the Gibraltar – excepting some five or six Uruguayan fans, quiet up until that point but who let rip with the traditional GOOOOOOOOOOOOOL scream while the majority of those present hung their heads in dismay.
But if there is one defining characteristic of the England football fan, whether at home or abroad, it is humour in the face of adversity. Despite going into half-time one goal down, a stirring chorus of Oasis’ anthem Don’t look back in anger shook the building as the football took a break. If the Three Lions go out, the message appeared to state, let us at least go out with a smile and a song.
But there were still a few twists to come. The villain against Italy and the man who put the easy header against the bar earlier, Rooney, finally broke his disastrous run in World Cups by turning in an easy chance, leveling the score. His joy was matched in the Gibraltar; a long, sustained scream of delight, where it was impossible to make out any specific sound over the general roar. Unfortunately though, the euphoria would not last long.
While England fans were dreaming of a winning goal and the revival of their World Cup hopes, Luis Suárez had other ideas. The Liverpool man took delight in destroying his Premier League team-mates’ dreams, running on to a wayward Gerrard header and blasting past Hart to provoke a second agonizing groan from those in Buenos Aires. This time, just as against Italy, one felt that there would be no way back from defeat for the Three Lions.
After five minutes of injury time and desperate attacks, referee Carlos Velasco Carballo finally blew the whistle, bringing an end to an exhilarating clash that finished with Uruguay taking a 2-1 victory, keeping alive their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages. England, meanwhile, were not quite eliminated still, but are left relying on an improbable sequence of results to have a chance of progressing.
Those English fans who had crowded the Gibraltar on a Thursday afternoon were disappointed but not unbowed. The pub’s jukebox took a maudlin turn, playing an anthem that has become synonymous with British sporting failure over the years.
“Always look on the bright side of life”, rang the chorus, accompanied by a hail of whistles as the pain of defeat already started to subside, if only for a few hours. Outside, Buenos Aires refused to pause for the English pain; it was there, amidst smiles, laughter and an order for “two more pints” or more that this sizeable colony of fanatics would begin to forget about the disappointment.