Published on November 22nd, 2018 | by Bill

England Fans In Russia – World Cup Photography Exhibition

If you’re in London over the next few days, get yourself across to The Bomb Factory Art Foundation in Archway where photographer David Shaw is exhibiting his photos of England fans taken during the World Cup in Russia last summer. 

The event runs from Friday, 23rd November until Wednesday, 28th November and is being run in conjunction with the FSF’s Fans for Diversity Campaign.

More details on a special launch night, happening tomorrow night can be found here

And as we celebrated England’s sort-of-glorious summer ourselves in our last Issue, here’s Tom Ambrose’s brilliant article reproduced for your enjoyment. You can still pick up a copy of the full fanzine for a reduced rate of £2 here. Cheers!

It doesn’t matter that football didn’t come home – what matters is that we believed it might

It is summer 1996. The days are hot and stifling, no rain for what feels like weeks, months, even. Liam Gallagher swaggers around a field for the lads, all the lads, in their bucket hats and gazelles. Beer spills carelessly, flares illuminate the sky and 40,000 bodies sway as one. The Conservative government limps on stubbornly. A nation divided; longing for a brighter tomorrow.

Then there’s England. Same old England. Unfancied England. My England, your England. His England, her England. Not-creative-enough England, not-positive-enough England. New England? The red tops evoke memories of Alf’s heroes – legends – and Bobby’s boys, who came so close. You know that was then but it could be again.

You wrest from the haze of the daydream. It isn’t 1996. It’s May, not Major. Liam, without Noel. Southgate’s setting fashion trends in the dugout, instead of crushing dreams on the Wembley turf. But the crosses of St George are still flying all around you. It’s 2018 and this generation of Three Lions have captured the hearts of the nation. They tease you to think the unthinkable, dare to dream, picture the parades, the songs in the street. But, in the end, they find a way to break your heart.

All over again.

‘Slip inside the eye of your mind…’

March 27, 2018. Wembley Stadium, London. A Mexican wave stutters around the passive crowd, more interested in mocking England’s chances for the summer. Sterling worthless, Young past it. They sneer. It’s a cold night and decades of bitter disappointment and conditioned failure has caused a rift between the pampered millionaires and the man in the seat. It feels irreversible.

England’s early lead erased by an Italian penalty, the first awarded at Wembley by VAR, and the entrenched feeling of apathy and mistrust burns on. Many of this young team played in the wretched defeat to Iceland two years before – that dark, sticky night on the Côte d’Azur. A burden those young shoulders will carry for years to come. Tainted by association. England’s blackest hour.

On Wembley Way, fans file out patiently. The World Cup is less than three months away and expectations are at an all-time low following the Disgrace of Nice, not to mention the Calamity of São Paulo. Nobody believes this group of players could end England’s 52 years of pain.

The crowds disperse. Some will leave Wembley and never return. And the rest? The rest are the dreamers. The it-could-be-our-yearers. The supporters so desperate for a reason to believe, they booked their flights to Volgograd, Nizhny Novgorod and Kaliningrad when the draw was made in December. By now, an unlikely figure has emerged as a beacon of hope, to think this time it might be different.

The scapegoat of Euro 96. Step forward Gareth Southgate.

‘Don’t you know you might find…’

September 27, 2016. The May Fair Hotel, London. An undercover Daily Telegraph reporter and a pint of wine does for Big Sam Allardyce and his dream job. Passion there for all to see, heart on your sleeve type, could do it in Macedonia on a cold Tuesday night, no problem. But a throwback to football’s murky past. Allardyce’s greed and shame swiftly morphs into England under-21 manager Gareth Southgate’s opportunity.

A mid-table career spanning Palace, Villa and Middlesbrough. Best known for penalty heartbreak against Germany at Euro 96, a name more commonly associated with sometimes lager, sometimes cider. Years rebuilding a reputation at St George’s Park lead to cries of ‘yes-man’ as the temporary appointment is confirmed. “What’s he ever achieved at international level?”, “one job and he was sacked at Boro” and “predictable choice from a predictable FA” reverberates around the phone-ins and social media.

A 2-0 home defeat of Malta. Lose, lose for any manager. Followed by a fortunate 0-0 draw in Slovenia. The manager’s honour saved by Joe Hart, soon to be left out in the cold by ice cool Gareth. All as expected. Same old England. Boring and predictable, but functional throughout qualifying. A 3-0 win against Scotland at Wembley precedes an impressive 2-2 draw with the immovable, if declining in power, Spain. And that seals the deal. Two weeks later, the job is his. Gareth Southgate, all of England is with you. The Three Lions qualify comfortably for Russia’s World Cup. His appointment signals a quiet, understated ambition for change within the archaic corridors of power at the FA.

Every story needs a hero. A journey begins.

‘A better place to play…’

June 18, 2018. Volgograd, Russia. It’s England at the World Cup but not as we know it. Scintillating stuff for the hardy few who have followed their heroes east. One touch, two touch football. Triangles. Sterling and Kane wreak havoc up front, Trippier and Young bomb on, while the three-man defence mop up any fleeting Tunisian foray into England’s half. For half an hour, this is bliss. Wave after wave of attack follows Kane’s early opener. This is for Ronaldo’s wink, Ronaldinho’s lob and Maradona’s fist all rolled into one. For the first time in a generation, England have arrived at a major tournament and it is pulsating to watch. Then Kyle Walker swings an arm, an anonymous Tunisian stooge falls to the floor and they equalise with the resulting penalty. Fuck’s sake.

But the crescendo continues to build. The attacks become more sporadic, more frenzied, but something is brewing and you can feel it. Time passes by all too quickly and the belief starts to drain. It’s important not to lose your first match, you reason, there are no easy games at this level. But there he is, neck muscles straining. Harry Kane nods in at the back post. 2-1 England. The beer goes flying, the dog shits itself and England win. England win. Here we fucking go, lads.

Five days later and Gareth’s boys are at it again. 5-0 against Panama at half-time. 6-1 at full-time. That cold night at Wembley feeling like a lifetime ago. England are taking the tournament by the scruff of the neck and playing with a freedom the other nations have yet to discover. Germany stutter, Brazil fail to convince and Argentina, well. Diego is grabbing the headlines once again.

Through to the knockout stage after two games. A nation starts to wonder, not dream. Speculate, not pontificate. The reserves slip up against Belgium but it doesn’t really matter, does it? Might be useful in the long run anyway, looking at the draw.

A nation quietly stirs.

‘You said that you’d never been…’

July 3, 2018. Moscow, Russia. It’s happening again. England in a World Cup knockout tie, in total control, a goal to the good with full-time fast approaching. Jordan Pickford defying physics to keep out the goal of the tournament and, before England have a chance to set themselves for the resulting corner, Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina is charging across the halfway line. The cross evades him but his presence is enough to provoke confusion. Yerry Mina rises above the crowd, nods past Pickford and there is nothing Kieran Trippier can do on the line to stop it. It all happens so fast. Before you know it, extra-time has come and gone, the ref has blown up and its penalties again. England in a penalty shootout at the World Cup. Again.

This team cannot afford to let their predecessors’ shortcomings impact on the next chapter of their story. The draw has opened up far too generously for missed opportunities here. It begins. One, two, three hit the back of the net for Colombia. Falcao, Cuadrado and Muriel refusing to blink, calm and composed in a cauldron of spite and, frankly, sheer shithousery. But England have Kane and Rashford, showing maturity beyond their years, to settle a nation’s nerves. It falls to Jordan Henderson to level up for three apiece.

A man whose abilities had been mercilessly mocked by cynics, his international credentials scoffed at by hacks. But that was then and this is now, 2018; Liverpool’s skipper, the first name on their team sheet. A Champions League final captain. How’s his nerve in a penalty shootout? He places well. But Ospina gets down better to save. Advantage Colombia. Mateus Uribe with the chance to put the tie beyond doubt. His run-up is confident but it smashes against the bar. Henderson, and England, breathe a massive sigh of relief. Game on.

All eyes on Trippier now. It’s never in doubt from England’s unsung hero. Scores. Three Lions smell blood. England have never won a shootout at the World Cup and boast a truly abysmal record across all age groups. Pickford has guessed right for the last two kicks but failed to stop them. Not this time. He does when it matters. Carlos Bacca places it central as England’s number one dives to his right and, just when you think the Colombian forward has outwitted the wee lad from Wearside, he raises a strong left hand above his head. Still diving, he thwarts the ball’s trajectory. Saved. Advantage England.

England stand on the cliff edge of history here. Eric Dier, the man to send the nation over the edge. He does. No penalty heartache in Russia, no tears before bedtime tonight. With one kick of a ball, England is set alight, engulfed in wild celebration across the green and pleasant, fans extolling the virtues of this young pride of lions. Southgate poignant as he consoles Colombia’s Uribe, empathising with his all too familiar pain. The quiet optimism shifts to an unprecedented level of dreaming and everything has changed.

Football’s coming home.

‘But all the things that you’ve seen…’

July 7, 2018. Samara, Russia. The calm after the storm. England finally has a team it can be proud of. ‘We Kane do it’, screams the jingoistic S** front page. The national chest-beating continues for days after the Colombia win. A Saturday afternoon quarter-final with Sweden on the horizon. A game England are expected to win to progress to a first semi-final since Bobby’s boys at Italia 90. Lineker, Gazza and the rest would gawped in disbelief if they had known it would take 28 years for another England side to emulate their achievement. Two decades of misery, longing to be washed away on the humid banks of the River Volga. As the weekend draws in, the temperature back home rises in every sense.

The enduring image from this summer of love is scenes of unbridled joy and uninhibited jubilation in the pubs, streets and living rooms up and down the country. It started with Kane’s early strike against Tunisia and just never let up. As Croatia dispatch of hosts Russia in the quarter-finals, Gary Lineker quips on nation television that the scenes from Zagreb are “not quite as impressive as Croydon”. This is where we are as a nation. Peak England. The amount of beer sent flying after each goal is now a legitimate yardstick for success, a barometer for the national mood. Soaked by beer and passion, in equal measure.

England win in the heat of Samara. Harry Maguire with a bullet header in the first half and England in total control. But for a few vital saves from the burgeoning Pickford, there is no heart-in-mouth moment, no reason for panic. Good old England. England who couldn’t play football, England have got it in the bag. Dele Alli responds to his critics with a header which seals progression to Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium, where Luka Modric’s Croatia lie in wait. A good team with a great midfield. The best midfield in the world, some say. But there to be beaten, nonetheless. Undoubtedly, this is England’s greatest opportunity to reach a World Cup Final since 1966.

The Three Lions and their growing band of supporters are on their way, continuing to plot their route across Russia. Croydon, Newcastle and Leeds celebrate into the night. The market town of Leek goes viral as locals march to the beat of Vindaloo. A nation in celebration, a distraction from reality.

All roads lead to Moscow.

‘Will slowly fade away…’

July 11, 2018. Moscow, Russia. Harry Kane waits in the tunnel of the Luzhniki Stadium, gaze fixed ahead. He is 90 minutes from immortality. To become only the second England captain to lead his team out in football’s greatest showpiece; the World Cup Final. If only it were that simple. He glances sideways. There’s Luka Modric, locks flowing, hairband fastened and every bit as determined. The Real Madrid playmaker is 32 and desperate to paint another layer of gloss on his glittering career. Croatia recognise this is the chance of a lifetime for them as well. They have designs of their own on meeting France back here in four days and a shot at glory. Kane and Modric step forward, on to the stage at Moscow’s theatre of dreams. England holds its breath. A nation drunk on a lethal cocktail of anticipation and imagination. The suits rush home from the office, the pubs heave and it could be 1996 all over again. It begins.

England, England, England. It’s all bloody England. It’s like Volgograd all those weeks and memories ago. Sterling weaves in and out of Croatia’s shell-shocked backline, Henderson nullifies the threat of the feted best midfield in the world, ably supported by Alli and Lingard. England lead the charge. Football as it was supposed to be played, at a pace the English could only dream of as the Germans, the Dutch, the French left them behind. Croatia can’t cope here. A free-kick on the edge of the area. Trippier to take.

The unsung hero sings tonight. 1-0 England. After four minutes of a World Cup semi-final. The country explodes. The evening’s tension broken by 30,000 fans in Hyde Park momentarily losing control. Trippier wheels away, his teammates sprinting behind him. This is a moment in time. For a few seconds when the ball ripples Danijel Subašić’s net, everything stops. And England is in dreamland. This is football. This is England.

There’s no respite for Croatia. England keep flooding forward, hunting in packs, searching for the second to put the match beyond their tiring opponents. Kane has led from the front all tournament. He has led his country from the front line and when Jesse Lingard weights the perfect pass through the Croatian defence, you are up on your feet. The skipper looks up, drinks in the angle. Calmly, he pulls the trigger. 2-0 and it would be game over. But, this time, the ball doesn’t hit the back of the net. The keeper saves but Kane has it at his feet again. Redemption? No. In a fraction of a second, the ball ricochets off the keeper on to the post, off the keeper again and Croatia scramble it away to safety. Moments later, Lingard has the ball in space on the edge of the box. But the Manchester United man is tight, so tight, and fires inexplicably wide. Nerves starting to take hold.

Half-time and the pundits wax lyrical. But something has changed in the second half. England are no longer smothering the midfield. Modric is finding time and space, conducting his orchestra, hitting notes to perfection for Mandžukić and Perišić. England are under pressure and those chances to kill the game off weigh heavy. England are just 22 minutes from the final, a date with destiny after 52 years of hurt. Just as they look to finally be getting a foot hold back in the game again – disaster strikes. A speculative cross is turned in by Perišić, stretching his foot beyond Kyle Walker. 1-1 and it’s time for boys to become men, football players to become legends. The clock ticks on and it seems there is only going to be one winner. Croatia are completely dominant now. England look exhausted by the ingenuity of Modric and Rakitić. Rebic rattles Pickford’s post and fate starts to look ominous. Three Lions on the ropes, hoping for the whistle. However, England have led the way in a World Cup of set-pieces. Two minutes into added time, Trippier loops a free-kick to the far post and Kane rises, ready to atone for that first-half miss. He makes contact. Score now and there is no way back for Croatia. The connection is poor, the ball goes well wide and the last chance of normal time slips away from England.

It was always going to be this way, wasn’t it? Extra time for a place in the World Cup Final. England look rejuvenated and belief grows that an unlikely winner might yet come. John Stones sees a header cleared off the line and now it’s Croatia’s turn to exhale. The first period passes without event and England stand fifteen minutes from penalties. The hoodoo has lifted at this tournament and they know they can win in the standoff of conviction and nerve. Croatia with all the chances again but England’s defence looks solid and resolute. Maguire has grown in stature over the past month and his trusted partner Stones has been a rock beside him. But nobody is perfect.

Mandžukić benefits from a fortuitous knock-on from Perišić and Stones has switched off for the first time in the tournament. The Juventus man doesn’t need a second chance as he whips the ball beyond a crestfallen Pickford. A nation stunned as reality bites. Croatia have come from behind and it is difficult to see them surrendering this position of strength. England come again, with just ten men as Trippier exits the field with injury. England push for one last chance to take the game to penalties. It doesn’t come. Full time. The dream over. Time to wake up.

England’s young lions slump to the turf, tears flow. The Croatian bench streams on to the pitch and their party has begun. Gareth Southgate will console his own team tonight. To a man, he shakes hands and hugs every member of his playing and coaching staff, before leading his pride over to the England fans behind the goal. Drained but defiant. Despondent but proud. For 15 minutes, England’s players simply stand and watch the outpouring of emotion from the terrace. They empathise with each other’s pain. The fans continue to serenade their heroes for another hour-and-a-half, finally leaving the stadium at 1am, once Southgate and his players re-emerge on the pitch for one final waltz. A last moment of mutual appreciation and respect. It is all over, football isn’t coming home. But memories were made here. Pride restored, relationships reignited and reputations rebuilt.

Don’t look back in anger, the fans sing deep into the night.

July 15, 2018. Birmingham Airport. The day of the World Cup Final. Time has passed and a third-place play-off with Belgium lost. England touch down in the West Midlands, a few hours before France beat Croatia to lift the World Cup trophy in one of the most exciting finals for decades. There is no fanfare here, no open-top bus parade, no champagne or comedy plastic breasts. England content with their lot but the feeling of an opportunity missed will sting for a while yet.

One journey may have come to an end. England still haven’t reached a World Cup Final on foreign soil and that wait goes on indefinitely. But another adventure has only just started. This squad has time on its side and a manager who will allow and encourage them to develop and flourish. The squad returns home with enhanced reputations and profiles. But now they go their separate ways. It’s almost like it never happened. But it did. And the memories of Kane, Maguire and Pickford’s exploits in the sun will endure, long after the disappointment fades.

It doesn’t matter that football didn’t come home – what matters is that we believed it might.

All over again.

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