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World Cup adventures by Francis Cassidy

World Cup fever is high. English fans are ecstatic. It may be coming home.

So, what’s it like to attend one of the greatest sporting events on the planet?

Family law barrister Francis Cassidy from 42 Bedford Row chambers shares a few stories:

I bumped into ItsaLawyersLife today on the train.

We were talking about the world cup and I just happened to mention I have been to a few big football tournaments. She told me I should write something about the whole experience. I’m not one to disobey her so let me set a scene or two from my first trip.

Palermo 1990. I am on the beach. Ireland are playing Holland the next day. I am with a friend. We are both 21. We are having a 4 way conversation with a Czech journalist (who will visit my family home for over a decade), two too pretty for me Italian girls (penpals for years) and some Irish farm boys not warming to my criticisms of the current pope. We are all drinking together and jumping in and out of the sea. We are all talking football.

Over the next few days Ireland and Italy qualify for the next stage of the 1990 World Cup. The Irish are having a party every night. The Italians are not playing in Sicily but when they win there is an all night flag-waving and horn tooting party in Palermo. Everyone is happy and it is a joy to be alive.

We travel to Genoa to see Ireland beat Romania on penalties and qualify for the quarter final for the first time ever. We were staying in a beautiful seaside resort near Genoa and walking round the piazza after the match with scarves and flags. Someone calls us over to their table and offers us drinks. It was Terry Neil (former Arsenal manager). He is sitting at a table with various broadcasters, Bobby Moore and the defeated Romanian manager.

We are welcomed onto the distinguished and well-oiled table. The Romanian manager wants to do nothing more than to tell Bobby Moore how much he loves him. There is a language barrier but the Romanian manager speaks French and so do I (a little bit). I am asked to translate between them. Bobby is very happy but very drunk and I can’t understand a word he is saying. I try to bridge the language gap but the two men prefer to hug and drink. It’s all a bit crazy and I am trying to work out if this is really happening and if I can afford to go to Rome to watch Ireland play Italy.

I am telling you this as my big tournament memories are overwhelmingly brilliant. I’ve been in sun drenched beautiful towns laughing, joking and drinking with new friends from every continent. The matches are the cherry on the cake of these trips coming after days of cycling through Belgium and Holland, hiking in the mountains in Bavaria, discovering Lisbon is Europe’s best city and lying on a beach on the French Riviera. The food, beer and wine have all been pretty special too.

I have only had one scary experience and that came from sharing an end with Serbia fans in Holland in 2000. Some of those guys looked demented and disturbed and all my instincts told me to avoid eye contact. I wondered if they had come straight off a battlefield in Kosovo but perhaps they were making sense of their gifted players drawing 0-0 with Norway in the most boring match I have ever seen.

My approach to big football tournaments is to try and buy tickets in different places across the course of a week. I buy the tickets usually before I know who is playing where. By sheer chance this means I get some England games. I am English of Irish extraction and I always want England to win. There are lots of lovely, interesting people who follow and support England but there’s a hard core of knuckle draggers who can drag the whole thing down.

In 2000 I arrived an hour before kick-off at the reputedly charming Belgian town of Charleroi. It looked like it had been ransacked. The England fans had been there all day and had laid waste. None of the plastic tables strewn across the town were in their original place. The England fans were singing about how the RAF shot down 10 German bombers and they then got to watch England beat Germany 1-0. I’ve heard that song and worse from Lisbon to Nuremberg. Some of the England fans were so happy with their victory that night that they sought to fight the locals and the police as they got off the trains in Brussels. This was not an isolated experience.

The whole set up now is very controlled at big tournaments. I noticed a change after the Euros in Portugal in 2004 which were wild and raucous. The World Cup in Germany in 2006 was very ordered. The fan parks sprung up. I had a good time in Germany but getting off the beaten track was as hard for me as taking penalties was for England in the quarter final,

The knuckle draggers following Engerland were out in force at the Euros in France in 2016. I missed them. I based myself in Northern France and had a great time in Paris, Lille and Lens. My memories of that tournament are mostly about singing ‘please don’t take me home’ with fans of seemingly every country in bars that didn’t want to close.

I opted out of Russia 2018. I bought into the scare stories about Russian law and disorder. I therefore only saw on TV the joyous scenes of Peruvians, Swedes, Senegalese and the hosts having the times of their lives. I was wrong to fear the worst but I have been watching the games with my 6 and 8 year old children instead re-enacting goals and fouls in the garden. I am already planning in my head a trip with them to USA, Canada and Mexico who will jointly host in 2026. I can’t bring myself to think of a trip to Qatar in 4 years time as the stadium construction death toll rises unrelentingly.

If you even half-like football you could do worse then go to one big tournament in your lifetime. Between now and 2026 I hope I go to another one somewhere far away. The African Cup of Nations or the Copa America would be wonderful. If anyone fancies the trip and knows how to get tickets please let me know.