Svan heading home
- 11 Jul 06, 03:05 PM
BELGIUM - It seems strange to no longer be in Germany. It feels strange to write that sentence.
I guess my moment of realisation that the party was actually over came when the fireworks exploded over the Olympic Stadium on Sunday.
This sensation was rammed home this morning when I looked at Bild newspaper. For the last four weeks the 'i' in the spelling on the cover has been replaced by the World Cup trophy. No longer.
Monday evening in Cologne was almost surreal in that I saw no football fans, no team shorts, scarves, flags, banners - the physical language that has defined our time in Germany.
Our camp site was quiet, devoid of the partying Dutchmen or Swedes or whoever else has been parked next to us during the tournament.
On Tuesday morning we went into Cologne and had a quick look around the huge cathedral - but in truth the real buzz came when we went shopping for last-minute World Cup tat.
Everything was cut price, they were almost giving the stuff away, and we loaded up big style.
Ricco’s Polski evening shirt - reduced from 19 euros to one - really is a hideous work of art.
As we crossed the border into Belgium I felt happy to be going home but sad to be leaving a country where so many great things happened while I was there.
To attend a World Cup final is a privilege and something I will never forget (I doubt whether I will ever forget THAT penalty shoot-out in Gelsenkirchen either but for a totally different set of reasons).
But to me what will live longest in the memory happened outside the stadiums and I think that in essence is what a World Cup is really all about - a huge party for people from all over the globe.
Some of it wasn’t great - a conversation with a supporter of one nation who suggested his team's improved performances was because there were no black people in the side stays with me for all the wrong reasons.
And inevitably with so many people from so many different places all here at the same time there have been some flash points.
But most of the aggression I saw happened in the various media centres when the time came to allocate tickets from a waiting list.
Some almighty scrambles broke out as people from different cultures reacted in radically different ways to the whole process. Tempers frayed as respectable human beings behaved unpleasantly. It was humanity in one of its lowest forms.
What I really enjoyed was bumping into people from all over the world and having a beer with them, talking about football, looking at their silly outfits and learning about the places they come from.
The tournament seemed to develop a momentum all of its own as fans traveled from place to place following their team.
The autobahns were full of camper vans and cars with flags fluttering from their windows. There was just a great buzz all over the country - helped immeasurable by the performance of the host nation.
I dread to think what effect it would have had on the mood of the nation - and in turn impacted on the tournament as a whole - if the German team had fallen flat on its face.
The group stages passed in a blur. It took Ricco and I some time to find our feet and there never seemed to be enough hours in the day, our early-morning plans continually sliding.
We really saw very few group games (and I’m talking TV here) and after 15 days or so I for one was starting to feel a bit jaded.
But that is where the energy of the World Cup comes in - it seems to lift you up and ensure you are able to carry on.
In the last week I felt like a mobile phone down to the last bar but at the same time knew that these are the sort of occasions you remember forever and must enjoy the maximum of your ability.
I like to think that I spent all the energy that I had for as one fan said to me when talking to me about something completely different “make sure you don’t die wondering”.