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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 June 2006, 03:51 GMT 04:51 UK
Flying the flag for club and country
By Claire Heald
BBC News, Gelsenkirchen

'Walvo' Walvin and Ken Wardhaugh
There's a sweepstake on who spots Walvo and Ken on the TV first
When England's travelling band of supporters arrive in a city for a match they find a suitable spot and hoist flags and banners carrying the cross of St George in their dozens.

It is not just a takeover of a town square, but a world of intricate stitching, washing superstitions and well-travelled flags.

The town of Gelsenkirchen is the latest stop on the England World Cup trail. Two days from England's quarter-final with Portugal, there are already clues that the fans are arriving.

Wherever England go in Germany, the supporters' flags follow, not just to adorn the stadium for the match, but also the windows and walls surrounding the main squares.

They come in one shape and all sizes, but mostly they are huge. Locals and other countries' fans stop in their tracks for a photo-opportunity.

We've been all over Europe following England - I don't just go to the big games
Paul Green

The flags show supporters' allegiance to their club as well as their country. A cosmopolitan mix of team names is emblazoned across the red horizontal stripe - from Premiership clubs, through the lower leagues down to fans' pub teams.

The four white squares are filled with crests, mascots, initials. Their condition hints at how long they have been on the march with England.

For something packed away in a bag and carried off to the football, many of them are fantastically intricate examples of creative stitching.

'Awesome'

Two weeks of hard work with a needle and thread went into Paul Green's flag.

"Wisbech, near Cambridge" is sewn across it in huge letters and the clue that he is a Norwich supporter is in the giant canary.

Hull City and Stafford flag

"I've had it a good 16 years since Italia 90," he says. "I've got a picture of Gazza with it. We've been all over Europe following England - I don't just go to the big games."

Dave Russell, from Basingstoke, aka Dave from Baze, has family to thank for the detail on his Wolverhampton Wanderers England flag.

"I'd been meaning to get a flag for ages but got drunk one night and ordered it on the internet," he says.

"To get the wolf, my Auntie Brenda butchered an old flag and put it on there. It looks awesome."

'Winning run'

All the fans agree they cart these giant rolls of material to show pride in club and country, but opinion is divided over whether to wash or not.

Dave is happy to put his in the machine. "You should have seen the state of it the other day. I'd taken it down and it'd fallen into about eight beers. It's really good quality and it doesn't run in the wash."

Nuremberg's main square
Fans turn the city and the stadiums red and white

But like footballers wearing lucky underpants, fans who have witnessed a victorious streak with their flag are less keen on the idea.

"We're a bit superstitious as we've had a winning run with it since not washing it," say England and Bournemouth supporters Justin and James Noakes.

"It's got some stains on it but we've always looked after it."

Others say a tumble in the machine happens in only the most extreme cases, "like if the flag gets a hot-dog and sauce all over it".

On match day, in the hours before kick off, the flags start to disappear from the host city as fans take them off to be hung in the ground.

TV bid

Competition is strong to be at the stadium early, to run in when the gates open and secure the best spot to display a flag.

Mickey Booth, Reg Bailey, Matthew Pearson, Adam Armitage
A proper flag, with a proper rope, from Yorkshire

Bringing one to the World Cup is also an attempt to get on the TV at home. Sunderland fans John "Walvo" Walvin and Ken Wardhaugh have a sweepstake running at work on which of their colleagues can spot them first.

Like the trip to the tournament itself, the flags cost a fair amount - up to 200 for a large size, with a club side's name on.

Other fans have been more canny - Mickey Booth, Reg Bailey, Matthew Pearson and Adam Armitage, from Grange Moor, Yorkshire, have carried their flag since France '98.

It is "a proper flag, with proper original rope and real paint for the words" they say.

But having come from its original post flying on a mill that closed down, it was also free.

It has cost the men enough to be here, and as Reg underlines: "Truth to tell, we're all Yorkshiremen, and we don't pay out much money for things."




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