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Last Updated: Monday, 19 June 2006, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
First time football fever
By Claire Heald
BBC News, Cologne

Following football is a serious affair for England fans, with the number of games attended regarded as a matter of pride. So how do those here for the first time feel about joining the throng?

Fans Left to right John Barsby, Adam Holmes, Matthew Hopwood, Craig Eames
The boys say the rowdiness is all part of the fun

Now that everyone has fallen in love with the game - and England seem to have emerged from a dark period of football hooliganism - demand has sky-rocketed. The ranks of England supporters are continually being swelled by new recruits.

Like the new child at school, they come in all shapes and sizes. And some of them stick out more than the others.

First taste

In Cologne, ahead of the England-Sweden match, they are sampling the local beer and drinking in their first taste of following England to the world stage.

The reasons they are here vary. But all agree that they like it so much, they will want to do it again.

The threat of trouble played on the minds of first-timer David Oss and his friend, Gary Nash, both from Manchester, in weighing up whether to go for it. Gary was in Marseilles for France '98 when trouble ignited around the England-Tunisia game.

He says he saw "diabolical" policing of fans.

"We did say there might be situations we would be uncomfortable with, but we had talked about going for four years. We felt we had enough nouse to handle it," explains David.

But it is not law and order but the international melting-pot of the tournament that has made the biggest first impression.

Highlights include karaoke with German soldiers, friendly German Hell's Angels roaring up to their campsite, and watching South Koreans unpack two vanloads of identical flat-pack tents as they moved in to follow their team.
PC Robert Pritchard and fans
The policing is high profile but friendly ahead of the game

The only thing that has put them off - and this is a very common complaint - is the official allocation of tickets to fans, and the black-market price of tickets.

British and German officers are patrolling the city's streets ahead of the match in a high-profile manner. Up to 70,000 England fans are expected to arrive for the game.

But the past trouble and rowdy fans are not fazing young students Cassie Bushnell and Nick Aust, from Croydon. They are sitting at a bar's front table, draped in their flags and England hats.

They went to Frankfurt for the opening England game only to head home to hire a Winnebago and drag four more friends back out.

Alex Gotch, 22, from Essex, says: "I follow West Ham home and away, so this is nothing, not as bad as at domestic games."

Their first World Cup is about having a good time, and making as much noise with the long-term fans as possible.

It is a showery day in Cologne. The outdoor Fan Fest big-screen areas are quieter than at the weekend.

Bars in the old town are still busy but dampened. Fans' goodwill events have been rained off and, at the day's press conference, the visiting UK dignitaries were handed umbrellas as presents.

Left to right Cassie Bushell, Nick Aust, Joe Chapman, Joe Roman, Sophie Burman, Alex Gotch
The students are here to have a good time

More English people visit Cologne than any other nationality, they tell us.

It was the cheap, short flights that prompted Amie Tomney, from Kent, to bring the whole family and boyfriend Tony to make their "debut".

"We are virgin World Cuppers," smiles her mother, Julie, from under a bierhaus umbrella.

"It was too close not to come. Fifty-five minutes on the flight, and we're here for the atmosphere," adds her sister Katie.

They plan to watch Tuesday night's match in one of the Fan Fests - "to mix with all the other countries' fans".

An extra viewing area is being constructed on the opposite side of the Rhine for 30,000 England fans.

City authorities and police deny it is a ploy to segregate supporters - in a move that would run contrary to the tournament's motto - "A time to make friends". They insist it is to handle the numbers. To compare, up to 10,000 Swedes are expected in the city for the game.

The number of England fans in Cologne swells by the minute and the atmosphere is rising. With their chanting and singing, arriving fans are heard before they are seen.

Howard Waudby
Howard says nothing is stopping him now

Down a side street in the old town, a boisterous bunch of England regulars are attempting to out-chant Swedish supporters.

First-timers John Barsby, Matthew Hopwood, Adam Holmes and Craig Eames are trying to enjoy a quiet drink nearby.

They say it was the right time for them to come to the World Cup now. They are in their late 20s and early 30s, have the money, no ties to hold them back, and Germany was closer than Japan 2002 or South Africa 2010.

Warm reception

The warm reception has surprised them, and the loud voices and spirits from the crowd are no bother.

"It's all part of the atmosphere," says Matt. "Everybody's having a laugh, everyone has been friendly to us, and the atmosphere has been great."

But perhaps the most succinct "Why now?" explanation comes a little further down the narrow lanes.

Howard Waudby, a police officer, is draped in his Hull City flag as he walks down along the bars.

He is here for the first time because "it's the first time a World Cup's been on and I haven't been married".

"I've been allowed," he adds, with a smile. "I've got nobody to stop me coming."




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