Thursday, August 12, 2004

History Corner (Germany v. Ireland, 2002 World Cup)

Well, I'm just back from the match at Kashima Stadium and it was pure brilliant. To begin with there have never been so many Irish in Japan before. Tokyo was full of them in their green jerseys and flags and funny hats and it was a delight to the eyes: never before, and probably never again ....

I connected with two lads from Ireland (otherwise, no ticket) and we descended on Tokyo Station to take one of the 'Match Special' trains on the Sobu Line. What a joke! We were packed in like cattle for a two-and-a-half hour journey. We were happy enough for the first hour but then it was a feeling of Baaaa! Baaa! Next stop Auschwitz ... there were a couple of five-minute stops along the way and the lads piled out for quick smokes on the platform. The hovering officials were not too pleased about that but they didn't know what to do when two hulking brutes decided to empty their beer-swollen bladders on the opposite line. The whole train gave them a great cheer. They were pissing for Ireland.

When we got out to Kashima at long bloody last there was a sea of green jerseys in the town as far as the eye could see. Where were the Germans? We were actually getting concerned at this stage, where the hell were they? Had we come to the wrong place or what? There was a marked absence of these occasionally lovable and deeply misunderstood people.

Drinks and palaver, we were all having a great time. People had come in from all over, from Ireland of course, but also from the States and Australia.

Packed on to buses next for the 10-minute shuttle to the stadium. This place is on the edge of nowhere and lit up like something out of Star Wars. The closer you got to the entry points the more police and security people came into view. For what? Japan has been geared up to expect "fooligans" and so far has been severely disappointed. The crowds were amiable, raucous, and singing away. Where were the Germans?

The stadium is fantastic. It's state-of-the-art. The field was like a billiard table just down below us, lit up like a spaceship in the midst of acres and acres of paddy fields. The teams were out warming up and we were singing away in great form:

Come on you Boys in Green, come on you Boys in Green
Come on you Boys, come on you Boys in Green ...

... which is a very catchy number and not so hard to remember.

The teams come out. Roars for the Irish, boos for the Germans. National anthems. The German thing comes first and it's an instrumental, listened to in polite silence. Then comes 'Amhrainn na bFhiann' and the crowd are roaring it out ... in Irish, mind you ... and everywhere you look there is a sea of green jerseys and tricolours: Irish fans 1, German fans nil even before the match begins.

And then it does begin. Damn, the Germans are good. It goes backwards and forwards and towards the end of the first half Michael Ballack (is it the left one or the right (Irish joke)?) comes tearing down on the left wing and sends a perfect cross to Klose in the box and he puts his head to it and it's in the back of the net, no chance for Shay Given.

Germany 1; Ireland 0

Klose, the product of a poor upbringing, struts to the goal line and shoves his fist at the Irish supporters. He's rewarded with a shower of boos and jeers. OK, we're one down but the supporters are doing the Germans' heads in and that's the first sign of it. Good, we'll keep it up.

It's a constant roar throughout the second half and when Robbie Keane comes through with the equalizer in the FOURTH minute of overtime (only seconds left in the game) the crowd goes wild. The Germans deflate and exit immediately after the final whistle. The Irish team stays on the field for the next ten, fifteen minutes saying thank you to the fans. So they should. We have to spend another two hours on the cattle trains back to Tokyo ... !