And so, on the first day, Sir Mike of Brown rescued England and slayed, just about, the mighty Fijians.
But the day wasn’t JUST about that, was it? Mine certainly wasn’t!
I’m in Brighton for the weekend for the matches between South Africa/Japan and Samoa/USA and I decided I’d go down on the Friday afternoon, take in a bit of the atmosphere and catch the England match at a Fanzone.
As I arrived mid afternoon, I drove past the hotel where the Samoans were staying. It wasn’t hard to miss as there was a big bloody coach out the front, emblazoned with the logo! My first thought was to get to my hotel and to get back there!
And that I did, but there wasn’t much going on – the players weren’t really around and those that were, were in the team room relaxing and I’m not the sort of person to disturb them. I decided I’d get some pictures of the bus, have a walk around (and a beer/late lunch) and pop back later.
After a beer at the excellent Seven Stars, I ventured back to the hotel and asked a team official if any of the players were around. He said as long as I was discreet, I could walk around the lobby but asked me not to hassle the players too much!
Let me explain something quickly – before the premiere of Building Jerusalem, I had a rugby shirt and my aim was to get the guys from the film to sign it and then try to get as many team captains as possible, as well. Having got Jonny and Johnno, I headed for the French training last week at Trinity School. Unfortunately, I didn’t see Dusatoir, but I was quick enough to get Basteraud to add his massive paw print to my jersey. So there it was, any player from each side…!
Back to stalking Samoa, and I saw a guy I recognised. That player was Census Johnston of Stade Toulousain. He was sitting with another player I didn’t recognise so I told him I was trying to get a player from each country and if he’d be interested in signing. He of course did, and then the following happened.
“Do you want my friend to sign, too?”
“Oh, I’m sorry I just wanted one from each team”
“He plays for USA”
“Really? I don’t recognise him…”
Yes, I actually said that. What an idiot.
Fair play to him, he did sign my jersey and I later worked out that it was Andrew Suniula.
Embarrassing part 2 wasn’t far away though! I decided to see if Mr Suniula was on Twitter so I could tweet an apology. I managed to find him and sent a tweet to him. Or so I thought. Five minutes later I got a reply “I think you mean my brother…”. Oh dear, this wasn’t going well. What’s it going to be like with, say Romania or Japan, where I don’t know any players?!
Anyway, after that balls up, I headed back to the pub to avoid the rain. I’d trotted down to the Fanzone earlier and it was totally dead so I thought I’d rest somewhere comfy before heading back for the opening ceremony.
By 6.30, the Fanzone was still pretty quiet. The choice of refreshments (Heineken, Strongbow, John Smiths or a tenner for a Hendricks and tonic) might’ve been part of the reason. If that’s indicative of all Fanzones then count me out. One of the worst things about these events is the lack of willingness to embrace local produce and people. There are loads of good Sussex beers – why don’t Heineken try and find a local beer from each region to add to their range?
As the game time approached, the Fanzone got a little busier but nowhere near the apparent 10,000 capacity. It didn’t surprise me: Brighton has a history of small attendances and not selling out when it matters!
All joking about the crappy Seagulls aside, this wasn’t really a surprise. This is a football town, not a rugby one. The people I spoke to said they didn’t even know it was here. One guy, who said he’s going to a fair few games, said he was walking home from work and saw it, so popped down! I’d only arrived in town today, but how poorly advertised was this for people to have not known? No wonder it was so quiet!
I’m not going to talk too much about the game, it’s been said a thousand times across the media already and this blog isn’t about match reports; it’s about experiences. And this experience started well with a lucky penalty try, ended with a large cheer for Billy and sandwiched in the middle were Sir Mike Of Brown and an interesting refereeing display.
The celebrations at Brighton Fanzone were fairly muted when Billy scored. It was the loudest cheer of the night, but the guy behind me (a Brighton football season ticket holder) summed it up: this IS a football town.
Along with referees, I’ll probably talk about venues more as I visit more of them, especially as I visit more football strongholds like Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester.
Saturday will be a big day, with 4 matches to be played. It’s like the rugby widow’s worst nightmare. I’m looking forward to cheering on Japan against SA in a sold out “Brighton Community Stadium” (not the Amex Stadium, dear, the sponsors won’t like that!) and hope it isn’t too one-sided.
All that matters now: 5 points on the board and a week of rest. Well played Fiji, and all future favours appreciated!