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Last Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006, 01:21 GMT 02:21 UK
Party erupts at Birchall's local
By Ian Wood
BBC News, Crown and Anchor, Stone, Staffordshire

Chris Birchall in action for Trinidad
Chris Birchall challenges England's Frank Lampard
"Who are ya? Who are ya?" went up the cry at the Crown and Anchor as Trinidad and Tobago ran out for their World Cup clash against England.

Despite the chant, many of the 200-odd people watching on television screens dotted around the pub, in Stone, Staffordshire, are on first name terms with T&T's number seven, Port Vale's Chris Birchall.

His mother's birth in Trinidad qualified him to play for the side from the smallest nation in the 2006 World Cup finals.

However, St. George crosses showed there were no divided loyalties among regulars.

"If Chris scores a goal when England are 5-0 up, that's fine," said landlord Mark Hassell.

"His brother Simon plays for the Crown and Anchor team, and Chris sometimes takes the training sessions. People here are definitely proud of him."

Jan Scrivens
Regular Jan Scrivens suffers as England misses another shot
As kick-off loomed, the chants became more strident. "England 'til I die" was popular, in between ear-splitting bursts from klaxons wielded by two customers perched on the bar.

A more elaborate chant congratulated England's Ashley Cole on his engagement to Girls Aloud singer Cheryl Tweedy.

After kick-off, the hubbub was punctuated by cheers with every television shot of Wayne Rooney and a harmonised "ooh!" as Frank Lampard squandered a chance.

The fug of heat, humidity and cigarette smoke seemed to weigh more heavily as the half wore on. Two women fanned themselves with Crown and Anchor flyers as they stood under an air conditioning unit which was fighting a losing battle.

'Birchall fever'

During half time, a group of Birchall's ex-schoolmates reflected on their time together at Alleyne High school.

"We were better than him then as well," laughed Joe Stafford.

"I think the whole of Stone has been caught up in Chris Birchall fever, but not when it comes to the World Cup - it's England," said Richard Maitland.

Cheers at England goal
Crown and Anchor regulars break off from singing to cheer
Birchall's family friend Andy Mipscond recalled childhood times they shared in nearby Eccleshall.

"Chris is just Chris. He's got his feet on the ground. He comes to see the Crown and Anchor team - that's how level-headed he is.

"I don't think anyone would begrudge him if he scored."

As the deadlock passed the 80th minute, even the euphoria generated by Rooney's return to action began to evaporate.

The impromptu pub choir's attention turned to the local boy. "You'll never play for England!" and, to the tune of Three Lions, "He's going home, he's going home!"

All were delivered with grins, hinting at the ribbing Birchall might get next time he is at the Crown and Anchor.

Katie Bell, Sarah Morrell and Kelly Smith - plus new friends
The regulars still had time to feel proud of Birchall

Joy and relief greeted Crouch's 83rd minute goal and Stephen Gerrard's injury-time clincher.

And while England failed to convince, they still won, which to the fans, was what mattered.

Sarah Morrell, Kelly Smith and Katie Bell reflected on the result and pride they feel at a familiar face gracing football's greatest stage.

"We're very proud of him," said Sarah. "It's the best atmosphere. We want England to win, but we want him to shine. It was absolutely brilliant."

Kelly recalled how Birchall said he had his eye on one prize if, by some "fluke", T&T failed to lift the World Cup.

"All he wanted was Gerrard's shirt. He's just a friend, he's a good lad," she said.






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