2002: A World Cup Odyssey - or how I learned to stop worrying and love the game


2002: A World Cup Odyssey is a non stop sleep-deprived month in the life of Anthony Jucha, an educated and normally sensible man who decided to get to know the world game during the 2002 World Cup.

In one of the most manic months of his life he learns what it is to be a fan by walking a mile in their shoes, 7190.51 miles to be exact, watching as many games from as many places as possible. Visiting pubs, stadiums, public squares, cinemas and even more pubs all around Europe, he shares and documents his travels and each nation’s highs and lows in the month of the World Cup.

Told with a cracking, off beat narrative, 2002: A World Cup Odyssey puts you right in the thick of it with Anthony as he cannonballs himself around the continent scamming his way into venues, jumping off trains and meeting all manner of fans. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and by the end…you’ll want a long hot bath with lots of fancy salts and lotions in it. Trust me.

A) France v Senegal... from Paris on 31 May 2002

I made a desperate dash down London's Victoria Street with a overstuffed backpack strapped to my back. Sweating the sweat of both

B) England v Sweden... from London

Mercifully, I buzzed back from Paris aboard a plane. It left me some hours to stroll through the city to admire the Arch of Triumph and the Eiffel Tower, both mightier and uglier up close than I had ever imagined. I climbed neither, having a fear not only of fees, but also of heights - one of my most persistent and shameful self limitations. No matter. I'd seen enough of Paris to know I'd be back someday soon. Feeling conservative, I arrived at the airport with ample time to spare. A strange sensation for me. I checked in and relaxed, nibbling a croissant and drinking water from the bathroom (my discretionary budget being well and truly blown by Paris). I arrived at Passport Control just on boarding time and prepared myself for the inevitable laughs to follow. My passport photo, taken some five years ago, displays a fresh faced, folly follicled young fellow. The stark contrast to my now gleaming nog provides an endless source of amusement to me and all Passport Controllers alike. Oh how we love to laugh at my contrast to my photo and the rapidity and severity of nature's most unsubtle of jokes. Having shared in some smiles, I passed through Passport Control, following the signs, only to discover another set of Passport Controllers and, of course, another round of quietly shared jokes. I thought little of it, but suddenly, it was all too apparent: Two Passport Controllers? I had just left France and entered again! I was in Arrivals! I'd taken a wrong turn, appearing to have arrived, but due to depart! Running madly now, the clock ticking down with no extra time. Sweating! Swearing! Begging for help! This was more like it. Much more like my normal airport experience. But, as ever, good fortune prevailed and after a panicked run, I just made my flight to London. England v Sweden here we come? For the first time I can remember, I felt soothed by the tube. Its gentle rocking and scent (rather shocking) were both quite a comfort. Though, I was all too aware that 'comfort' was a sensation I would soon be without. After the Belgium v Tunisia match, there would be no more pit stops home. Personal hygiene would be an issue. It usually is. I slept heavily and ventured out early for the England game. I'd selected Chelsea for my venue. I'd heard of the 'Chelsea Headhunters', said to be, shall we say, the most colourful supporters in London. Frustrated by their FA Cup loss to Arsenal, I figured the Headhunters would be fired up for a win. I tubed it to Fulham Broadway, near Chelsea's home stadium, arriving about an hour before kick off. It was good to see the flag sellers about, but the punters, I'm afraid, were lacking. London is seldom vibrant on a Sunday morn and today, sadly, was no exception. I dashed from pub to pub looking for (low)life. It was a troublesome chore. I know Chelsea is a wealthy area, with some salubrious establishments, but you can't tell me they let the fans trash the Chesterfields. Where was I to watch the match? The early morning games had provoked much conversation as the tournament drew near. Despite the Brits being the experts in the field, I suspected it was a whinge that resonated loudly across the Northern Hemisphere. It is a position with which I have little sympathy, relishing my childhood memories of waking pre-dawn to watch Australia secure the America's Cup in 1983 and, to this day, being agape at CNN's decision to delay all telecasts of Sydney's 2000 Olympics. Is it not a wonderful part of international sport to watch it at un-Godly hours and give at least some measure of commitment as the players one supports? I checked out the encouragingly named 'Shed Bar' near the stadium, but like anything in a 'Village' of commerce, it lacked severely in character and promised little interest. The bouncer, 'Straight Jacket John', cared neither about football or its fans. He was more interested in the big fight from the night before and saw fit to use me to act out the low blows that turned the bout. Just another big little man. 'The White Hart' down the road was closed and the 'Slug and Lettuce' was merely another 'Slug and Lettuce' from a regrettable chain and so 'So Bar' it was. Some burley lads made promises of action as they reclined on their Chesterfield. Headhunters? I suspected not. Nonetheless, 'So Bar' showed energy and the pintsome faithful gathered slowly to watch. The nerves were evident. For such a footballing nation, the stakes were high. It showed in the match which had a quiet and controlled start. To my mind, the first twenty minutes offered little thrills. The pub was quiet and I felt half tempted to abscond to the local library, thinking that the research opportunities may have outweighed the action I was seeing. Or not seeing as it was. And then, finally, a fine cross and header and an England goal! Explosions around me. The noise per head incredible. If one could bottle the passion of England supporters, Viagra will have met its match. As the crowd screamed with joy, a young lad dashed out from the toilets and stood aghast in front of the screen. "I knew it! I went to the toilet and we scored. That always happens!" I laughed with the crowd. Even more so as they stuffed him back into the toilet and blocked shut the door. Distracting from the celebration and offering an omen, his just deserts he received. Play continued well for England and at half time they remained up one-nil. I pushed past the toilet detainee for a quick lizard drain and then went out to explore. There had to be more. Following my instincts and, as always, the noise, I found my salvation under the stands of Chelsea stadium. At Gate 5 and 6. Here they were. Headhunters galore! Security was tight. No 'Straight Jacket John' here. Headhunters well out of his league. Though, it was here that security, taught me a valuable lesson. Notepad in hand, pen behind ear, I became a journo looking for a scoop. Smiling sweetly and talking smoothly, I scored a free entry into Budweiser's Front Room Football show. Validation! If not from publishers, at least from hard nosed security, the true openers of doors. (Thanks Mick!) I was happy as a pig and at last truly in it. Here they were in their hundreds, face painted and jolly, the floor strewn with all the best in sponsorship gimmickry Budweiser had to offer. I settled in and started scribbling away. A bespectacled young lass from the front row spotted me and bought me a drink. What luck! I felt like the King of England! Faith in my subjects renewed. The second half started and then came the chants: "Eng-a-land, Eng-a-land, Eng-a-laaand Eng-a-land, Eng-a-land, Eng-a-laaaaaand..." But still tension pervaded. As with the French supporters from a few days ago, a dedicated, disciplined concentration could be detected. They wanted it so badly and had but one half in which to hold the lead. Little action intervened until the fifty eighth minute when some sloppy defence allowed Sweden a goal. The room died. It was the quietest moment the day had provided, the only noise to be heard being transmitted from Saitama. It was sad. Really sad. As play drew on, England's captain came off to respectful applause, but the room's shoulders were slumped. A very near England goal re-ignited emotion with fists pumping prematurely. They chanted with hope. It made me feel proud to be English. (Even though I was not.) Time passed. England lacked control. Sweden had too much. Expectations lowered and frustrations grew. "Play the ball" they called leading up to a last chance at goal from a goodly loft and a damned close header that was just not to be. Full time. The crowd was displeased. A draw not enough. There were a few encouraging claps, but disappointment was thick in the air. "Rubbish!" "A terrible second half." "This was the one we needed to win." They filed out, quiet and slow. No joy to be found. I would have to wait and travel some more to witness a win. Expectations are clearly high in the England camp, but surely not dashed. I'd like to think that this country, so filled with hope, would not let it all go because of a respectable draw with a nation not defeated by England for some 34 years. We'll see how they fare against Argentina come Friday. But, before then, for me, gallant Ireland awaits...

C) Ireland v Germany... from Dublin

My alarm erupted to wake me predawn. It was about the same time of day that I went to bed the day/night before. I'd spent much of the last twenty four hours sleeping, but my body's clock was well out and I felt far from recovered. I knew I would not be alone. The whole of England would soon be stirring after enjoying an extra long weekend to mark the Queen's Golden Jubilee. It was an irrelevancy for me as it was for so many. I pondered whether the million or so who spent yesterday parading the streets will wonder what they were celebrating as they grumbled their way from 'two ups' to 'two downs' and onto their jobs to do that thing that Her Maj never will... work. Still as an Australian, England's Queen is my Queen. Our un-elected anachronism who will probably remain so for as long as our elected arachnid, John Howard, remains our PM. 'However will we get rid of him?' I wondered and then quitely remembered my fine for failing to vote at an election just passed. I shook off my dreams of a Republic back home and roused myself with thoughts of the one just next door. The Republic of Ireland. A land that would probably be soon taking a drubbing at the hands of Germany. Though, in Ireland, even a wake gives reason to celebrate. Of course, then there is always the luck of the Irish. And, at the start of this day, I could use all I could get. I was tempting fate as I embarked on my too tight itinerary. I was booked on an early flight from London to Dublin and set to arrive barely an hour before kick off. If things did not go exactly to plan, I would be watching the match in a smokeless, yet airless, airport bar drinking Guinness from a leprechaun's can. As Murphy's Law would have it, things did not begin well. I slipped into the tube network thoughtless and ticketless, still of the mindset of my days of employment when there was always a weekly travelcard in my pocket where twenty pounds should have sat. Liverpool Street Station and I was shaken down. A full year and a thousand pounds worth of honest journeys amounted to naught as I stood desperately debating and my train to the airport idled cruelly away. I was sin-binned to a queue which shuffled so slowly. I didn't mind buying a ticket, even two, but the penalty of time was the greatest of all. Perhaps as a reward for my patience, though forced, I received a commemorative Queen's Jubilee ticket. How precious! How unique! Oh how I would treasure it, I thought as I inserted it into a ticket machine. It must have felt the same way because it kept my ticket. I'd have to wait another twenty five years for a new one. I'll bet the old bag will still be on the throne then too. I found another train and checked in just in time to join an unsettled group of would be, soon to be, many by now should have been... passengers. Hoards of disgruntled tuned into the chimes. Constant announcements of flights being delayed. I learned of one, two, even three hour delays. Things were looking bad. Then came my turn: "This is an announcement for passengers travelling on flight FR207 to Dublin..." Holding of breath! Crossing of fingers! Scanning for clover! "...your flight has been delayed..." Oh crap! "...for fifteen minutes." Sweet relief and hope once again - I still stood a chance! Fifteen minutes clearly meant the same to the airport as it oft does to me, growing into a good half an hour. A tortuous time of listening to chimes. Planes were dropping like flies. Or not, as it were, each and every delay being blamed on a late inbound flight. Someone else's fault, the unapologetic implication. Finally, on board my plane. I met an Irish woman and child who helped me relax and feel grateful. They had missed a flight the day before and spent an uncomfortable night on the airport floor. Still chipper and upbeat, they offered me sweets and made me look ever more forward to my day in Dublin, though all too brief it would be. We touched down about a half an hour before kick off and I made my usual airport run, weaving through crowds of irate husbands anxiously waiting for late arrivals, feeling certain to miss the game. It was a fate to which I had not yet resigned. A bus from the airport to town. Half an hour guessed the driver. Just maybe I would make it. The journey through Dublin was all that I'd hoped. Every terrace and shop window displayed Ireland's colours. Every car, just the same. Dubliners strutted the streets. The recent one-all draw with Cameroon had seen spirits soar. The Irish felt invincible, or at least eminently drawable, and suddenly Germany was a welcome foe. Ten minutes before kick off, after six hours of mad travelling, I stood well rewarded, a pint of Guinness in my hand. It was to the 'Foggy Den' that I had been directed. It is in Dublin's Temple Bar area which is riddled with pubs (being a part of Ireland). Wood beams exposed, tightly enclosed, the 'Foggy Den' held a healthy number of locals and a few red headed thugs. It looked promising. Anthem time and only a few stood, shuffling their feet. Not a soul sang. It was a manner of pride with which I could relate, where the a pint of the nation's frothy black sin commands more respect and attention than some outdated hymn. Game on! A mere two minutes elapsed and saw the crowd to its feet and me give a shout, my first of the tournament (and I very nearly blushed.) No goal, but a promise of excitement. I was desperate to see this lot running mad on the streets. C'mon Ireland! There was optimism early on and they kept pouring in. The Guinnesses were racked up by the dozen. I had downed my first within minutes, caught up in the exuberance. I thought it best to slow down. If Ireland were to win, I'd be on the pub crawl of my life. Oh, just one more pint before half time couldn't hurt. Infectious lot, the Irish. En route to my pint and then devastation. A soft goal for Germany. A great groan of pain from the pub. A knife to the country's collective heart. Passions were raised as the team struggled on. However, I was heartened to see that humour was not lost. A quick shot of Ireland's unhappy bench provoked quite a few laughs. I thought it showed an impressive ability to laugh at oneself and admirable appreciation of the endless comic value of pain. Cheers Ireland. The first half continued poorly for my adopted side. The only highlight being a blow to the head of a German defender. Laugh and applause all around. Pain always funnier, of course, when felt by someone else. At half time, I ducked out for a run. I had no problem with the 'Foggy Dew', I quite liked it in fact, but on the way there I'd spotted the 'All Sports Cafe', a sizable venue that I though may bring action. It proved to be a faceless venue. It was certainly full, but empty all the same. I scooted across the road to 'The Auld Dubliner'. There were a great many bar staff serving and with the noise it well showed. By the bar was a plaque: 'The James Joyce Award for being an Authentic Dublin Pub' awarded for "genuineness, friendliness and the presence of good company." I sized up the crowd. They were scraggly and rowdy. Pock marked skin and beer bellies abounded. They looked like damned good company to me, so once again I stood, cold pint in my hand, and waited on the game. The second half began offering little for Ireland. There was a bit of rough-necking against Germany's goalkeeper which pleased the pub and inspired some shouts and laughs. It gave way to the first chant of my day: "C'mon you boys in green, C'mon you boys in green, C'mon you boys, C'mon you boys in green." It didn't really last though and soon enough the pub was all quiet, except for a buxom young Australian girl, cackling in the corner. Typical football philistine. As time ticked on, things began to get messy. I overheard an invitation to fight. There were ugly gestures at the screen. Two young German women passed by the window, showing off a little early, receiving the abuse sought and deserved. The unrest was growing. "Jaysis lads!" they cried in despair. Then, at last, with not even a minute to spare, Ireland scored a inspired late goal and oh what a roar! They nearly screamed the screen off the wall! The room bounced and heaved. Arms all in arms. The game had ended, but the chanting seemed it would never would. "Jaysis lads!" they cried in delight. I floated out of the pub, riding high on the roars. I I ducked into 'Dublin's Left Bank' where they had all fallen silent, listening to their coach giving praise to the fans which was graciously received. I passed 'Quay's Bar' where the "Ole's" echoed strong. I went into 'Fitzsimons', a dark drinking den, where they were still cheering replays. Rapture claimed the streets now. Dedicated groups of young men inspired each other on to sing of success. It was wonderful to finally be part of a win, well a draw perhaps, but it was good enough for an underrated footballing nation with enormous hopes, now perhaps justified. There would be a whole day of this. A day not to be missed. As I type, I can still hear the noise. Joyous slurred chants. I can hear them calling me. I'm off to get drunk! There should be plenty of time to sleep it off before I see you in Belgium...

D) England v Argentina... from London

England was ecstatic. Millions planned to take sickies to watch the big match. The whole country wanted to see if their team could improve on their lacklustre draw with Sweden. Arch rivals, Argentina, awaited. The Falklands was nothing. THIS would be war! I did not care. I was having a day off. My own little sickie. I had about forty-eight hours to move out of London and too much to occupy my mind and my time to worry about football. First, there were the Romanians. Leaving a country involves a lot of small jobs, house clearing by no means the smallest. My partner, Deb and I had a complete collection of household items with no house to hold them. It was time to put something back. For a year, I had spent my Saturdays shuffling between charity shops, searching for bargains so easily found. Even now, I sit in a Marks &;amp; Spencer spencer. Not bought from M&;amp;S itself, heaven forbid, but from the Romanian's store that I so loved. Mostly, because it enabled me to achieve my dream of buying a second hand dinner suit which I have since worn with pride to many a fine function. Of all the local options, Deb and I had selected the Romanians as the worthiest the recipients of all our rubbish. By now, all those orphans must have grown up and made more. Things must be out of control! We made multiple trips lugging great bags of guff to two grateful old ladies who sat sharing a puff. They tore through the bags and positioned our shared life about on their shelves. I hoped that our lives would enrich someone else's. Or at least help a few orphans of orphans. A Union Jack caught my eye. It was one of many postcards I had bought, but never sent (sorry Mum!). They had been scattered around the store in unabashed pride. I thought of the match. I felt I really should watch it and squeeze in a report. I could surely make time. There was one hour until kick off, but still an important job remained. On my back, I was carrying about twenty kilos in coins. A year's worth of any man's emptied pockets (and one hell of successful poker game). I needed to unload. There was a bank just nearby, but it had a terribly slow moving queue. Someone was probably trying to open an account and the staff were preoccupied with the necessary fingerprinting, interrogating and beatings out back. There can be no institution that resists being given money as much as an England bank. The pre-requisites to opening an account are so arduous that I have heard some thirty percent of the population never bother and just go without and account. Can you imagine that? Never dealing with a bank! Lucky bastards. Standing outside the bank, I was inspired to watch the match in the financial district of London. 'The City', as it is known. I was curious to see how the suited ones appreciated the game and there would of course be plenty of banks in which to deposit my change. As if reading my mind, a bum approached. "Got any spare change?" "No" I instinctively lied, almost struggling to stand. I may not have been pin striped, but I could definitely cut it in the City, I thought assessing my meanness as I jangled away. I made it to the tube, luckily via a bank which lightened both my mood and my load. I stood at Tottenham Court Road tube station thirteen minutes before kick off. A tube was due in two minutes. It would take seven minutes to reach Bank, the City's main tube station, giving me exactly four minutes to find a pub before kick off. No problem. After seeing Ireland's late goal against Germany, I did not doubt what could be achieved in a matter of seconds. With two hundred and forty up my sleeve, I should make it with still some to spare. I sprung from the labyrinth that is Bank tube station and streamed down Cheapside like a racehorse without weight. I bolted into an office staffed (or 'manned' as they prefer to say in the City) by a super helpful secretary. On her advice, I flew to the 'City Tap', a smallish bar with a good group of suits huddled around a television, no bigger than the one that sat in my home. (The one I should have been out trying to sell at that very moment.) I made it for kick off. Four for four so far. My pint of 'Kroenenberg' did not make my hand quite in time, but the City is not Dublin, so what to expect? The game started and the scent of competition hung strong in the air, rising above the Armani and Versace and, I hoped, sweaty me. These guys wanted to win. Not just football, but every damned thing in their lives. I reflected on shameful memories of kicking over chessboards in games against my brother, only slightly my junior. Perhaps I could fit in here. Then, someone spotted me writing. "What's this? A university project?" Misplaced in my surrounds due to Romanian mothballs. The match seemed a little quiet, so I studied the room. I noticed the 'shot of the month' was 'Liquid Cocaine' which seemed to have about as much point as powdered pints at a Beer Fest. For thirty-six pounds, one could buy a jug of 'Chambull': a bottle of bubbly, three shots of vodka, two red bulls and a slice of orange. In a jug. If only I still had my coins. Then an explosion! A near goal bounced off the post. Exuberant shouts followed by now seemingly universal hands placed on heads. Although, something did not seem quite right. Claps from above? I had not been upstairs. Could there be Argentineans about? I went up to hunt around. If they were in there, they melded into the masses watching two smaller sets. Pin stripped camouflage. The match progressed and very late in the second half England's captain dished out a bloody nose with no recompense. The room shared a laugh. Stories were exchanged of bloodied noses given or received after big nights out (on the Chambull no doubt.) Almost immediately afterwards, someone hit the deck and England was awarded a penalty. England's captain, centre screen again, took the penalty and scored! Double fists in the air! (From yours truly as well. I could not help it I'm afraid.) England's captain now a champion on two counts for the game. First he scored a blood nose and now a goal from a penalty. The irony was completely lost on the crowd. But who cares? A goal is a goal and the crowd celebrated it with vigour? "We love England, we do, We love England, we do." Half time. Time for my run. I wanted to suck on a slice of orange instead, but everyone knows oranges go with Chambull, so I decided to pass. I mis-followed some directions past 'Fuego', a tapas bar which had expanded its interests beyond inflating its prices and deflating its serving sizes to football. It was full of flat punters and there was still time to run, so it was run that I did. I ducked into a street, promisingly named Brewers Garden Hill, and emerged to find 'the Globe'. I squeezed in to discover not just the 'suits' I had expected, but rather a mix of all sorts. Next door, 'the John Keats' was a touch more up market. It proudly displayed a framed 'Pledge to maintain high standards of cleanliness on these premises'. A pledge kept, I expect, by sweeping the filth through the door into the adjoining Globe. Ridiculous, the way such venues are so artificially divided and even more so the way we abide such divisions. I stayed with the suits for a pint of 'Carling' (of all things) to await the second half. England came out firing to miss some close shots at goal. The crowd clapped and smiled. The joy I had found in the City Tap had not been lost on the lot in John Keats. As the game moved along, the television seemed to stall. It jumped and jerked concealing the result of a fine England attack. The room's breath was bated, the outcome only revealed by the "ohs" of the viewers of the working televisions in the Globe next door. Yet not a soul moved. The suits stood in their place, preferring to risk missing the match than mixing with scum. I, on the other hand, mix very well with scum and so moseyed into the Globe to investigate. My entrance was welcomed with a chant: "Eng-a-land, Eng-a-land, Eng-a-land..." Cheers lads! Wrong country for me, but thanks all the same. The game progressed very well for Ol' Blighty. Everyone was feeling good. Feeling jolly. Feeling victorious (though not there quite yet)! The vibe in the room seemed to transgress the thousands of miles to Sapporo where England were performing fantastically well. Their attacks were bold. Their defence was defiant. We all felt the game would be theirs. Five minutes left and the chants grew louder. With two minutes to go, the room bounced on its toes. They smiled nervously. Hands rubbed heads to sooth away stress. Oh God let them have it! Such expectation must surely be met. And then, at last, the final whistle! England had done it! They had beaten the great Argentina! Their Cup hopes alive! I wore a kiss on my head and bounced around joining in the group hugs. The emotion, it seethed. Tears welled all around. More from relief than from joy, or so it seemed to me. While the draw in Ireland gave me more noise, this result, the first victory I have seen, gave me my most emotional response thus far. There may not be another people for whom the World Cup is so dear. On the street, the rain drizzled down while the cars honked on past. I trotted back to Bank tube station, passing smiles all the way. It felt a shame to be leaving London now, though I may soon be back. Who knows? Could 1966 come back to this land that has so longed for its return? I cannot help but hope so. Not to get ahead of myself. Back to dehoming my home and then on to continue the plan. Belgium awaits...