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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK

A city of two halves

By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Online, central London

The streets were almost empty while any pub, bar or coffee shop with a TV was rammed with England fans - a sight that won't be repeated for another four years. When the sleepy streets of England woke again on Friday morning as the final whistle blew between England and Brazil, the sweet dreams had all evaporated.

And alcohol or no alcohol, a depressing hangover had already begun to lodge itself in the nation's collective psyche.

The longest day had started earlier than normal for millions of football fans and at Waterloo station in London the rush-hour was an hour premature.

With 15 minutes to go before the opening whistle, office workers flooded out of commuter trains and strolled, with brisk, single-minded determination, out of the station to nearby television screens.

The most eager broke into a jog, desperate not to miss a second of England's most keenly awaited football tie in 12 years.

Not early enough

Train companies had anticipated an early glut and many laid on extra carriages in response. But it wasn't always enough.

As Beckham and the lads traded opening passes 12,000 miles away in Shizuoka, John Boundery was left twiddling his thumbs at Waterloo, awaiting his connection to nearby Vauxhall, where he was planning to watch the match in his office.

"I usually get the 6.21 from Orpington without any trouble and am in the office by five-to-seven," said the civil servant.

"But this morning it was jammed full, so I had to wait for the 6.28 which is a stopping train. I do feel a bit hard done by because I'm always up early."

Pocket tellies

Accountant Alan Manchester had risen at 0530 but a cancelled train and another so "heaving" he couldn't get on, conspired to delay him.

"I don't mind missing lots of goals - as long as they're England goals," he chirped.

The accessory de jour was undoubtedly the pocket television. One businessman who had settled at a cafe table with his handheld TV, quickly found himself surrounded by a huddle of new-found friends.

And those who had no choice but to be on the move, were plugged into radio commentary via earphones.

Match, what match?

But not everyone was gripped by the excitement. Cyclist Adrian Monk could be found soaking up the silence on the bank of the Thames.

"I'm just enjoying the peace and quiet before I head off to work. I haven't seen any of the England games yet, apart from the highlights."

Half a mile away, across the river in Trafalgar Square, the atmosphere couldn't have been more different.

Fans, many decked out in England strips and St George's flags, crammed into the square to watch the match on a huge outdoor screen.

Battle of Trafalgar

Late arrivals craned their necks from across the road to get a sightline of the screen. And although their view was periodically blocked by passing double-decker buses, spirits were high - after all England were one-nil up.

Carmel Elmore had bagged a prime spot on top of a bollard.

"I've got a good place here. The atmosphere is just fantastic. I'm Australian - we don't have anything like this at home."

As the second half got under way, the capital's main thoroughfares were by no means deserted. But for 0830 on a weekday morning, traffic was remarkably free-flowing.

Almost...

Yet the relaxed mood had stiffened slightly after Brazil's equaliser, and things went further downhill when Ronaldinho put the South American side in front.

In Covent Garden, waves of anguished gasps floated out of packed pubs and into the empty side streets, as England's attack tried and failed to claw their way back.

But with the clock ticking, expectation turned to irritation at England's slack passing.

In Corts bar on High Holborn, fans' frustration was vented in short and angry bursts, as injury time approached.

"LOB IT! WHAT'RE YOU DOING, YOU IDIOT?"

Nails were being gnawed, heads held in hands, eyes that had been fixed on the screen looked red and bleary. England fans were in familiar territory, but this didn't ease the tension.

And then came the final whistle. The dregs of coffee cups were quickly supped and a stream of dejected looking fans filed out of the door and off to work.

This longest day was really going to drag.


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