Football fever

I am sure that during the coming weeks you will see an England supporter George Cross wall chart appearing in windows throughout the region. If you look more closely you will see that Bright Wealth Management – through our Workplace Pensions division, Bright WPP – are main sponsors of this major production, with over 20,000 wall charts being distributed through the Telegraph & Argus.

My colleague Richard Morris at Bright’s head office in Warrington is an avid diary keeper and during the last Euros he wrote an account in his diary of a trip to the World Cup in France in the 1990’s. Nostalgia. I thought that it would be topical to include and makes a welcome change from writing about investments and pensions. Have a read and look out for our wallcarts!

‘England’s ‘consistency’ in Euro 2012 took me back to the heady days of June 1998, when I was invited on a (ahem) research trip to the World Cup in France. Now at that time I worked primarily in sports marketing for Reebok, managing the ‘image’ of Reebok sponsored players in the press. When I say ‘press,’ I don’t actually mean ‘press,’ I mean Shoot and Match magazines, both at the time IPC publications.

Glenn, from Reebok and myself were invited along for a week to carry out (ahem) research of the World Cup. Vital. The full team comprised Glenn, myself and eight ‘researchers’ from IPC. All male, all working on the said ‘press.’

Lots of agonising took place beforehand as to where we should base ourselves. Forgive me if tiny details of this are wrong, but we gambled on fixtures and groups and calculated that if England qualified from their Group G as winners, they would play the winners of Group H in Bordeaux.

Group G: England. Colombia. Romania. Tunisia.
Group H: Argentina. Croatia. Jamaica. Japan.

Hmmm. England v Argentina in Bordeaux sounded promising – and enticing.

The boys from IPC worked out that a pleasant and accessible place to book accommodation would be La Rochelle. Very pleasant, I’d been there before and enjoyed the picturesque harbour and quaint town. What’s more it had a direct rail link to Bordeaux. The plan was made. The IPC boys left a day early…for an extra days research. (What we learned during the trip was that they were carrying a £25,000 cash float. And that bit’s accurate, because I saw it. £2,500 each research delegate seemed perfectly reasonable, contingencies, unforeseens etc. As well as lager.

The next day Glenn and I flew to Bordeaux and caught the train to La Rochelle. When we arrived at the hotel on the harbour, the advance party from IPC were sitting on the steps. Well, sitting on their suitcases on the steps. Perplexed we asked what was wrong. They had been kicked out. It appears that the hotel had its own six-foot inflatable Coq in the reception. Le Coq, the French World Cup mascot. The researchers from IPC had thought it an entertaining idea to have a game of football with Le Coq. As Glenn and I questioned them the manager of the Hotel came raging, yes raging out of the hotel screaming, ‘They keeked my parrrrot into the sea.’

Yes we left. Unforeseens came in useful, but accommodation for a week during the World Cup was hard to find. No matter. Glenn and I shared a three quarter bed in a seedy back street hotel for a week. Good research, maybe for Lonely Planet.

Normality soon resumed and we watched a couple of qualifying games on the pub telly. The crucial games: England beat Colombia 2-0 in Lens and Romania were beating Tunisia 1-0 in the Stade de France. So, with two minutes to go, the planning was working perfectly. Except that Romania didn’t beat Tunisia. In one of the footy flukes of all time Tunisia scrambled their only point of the tournament in the 93rd. minute against Romania. Instantly all the fixture venues changed as the match ended in a draw. I can only sum up the confusion by the story of us sitting in a café in Bordeaux the next morning when a burly Geordie came up to us and said, “Where the ****’s St. Etienne?” Our plan was undone and our tickets were now for the match in Bordeaux between Romania and Croatia. It was an early kick-off, we went, but remember the Baltic wars? Not a pleasant game to be at.

Unforeseens came into play again and one of the IPC researchers re-appeared looking very pleased with himself. He had found a room over a restaurant in Bordeaux which he had rented and had a bloody great telly on the wall. Second best but good enough given our situation. So we trooped along with him to the Bordeaux George Cinq restaurant. Yep. George Cinq, Bordeaux. One of the poshest and most expensive restaurants in France. He had done an all in deal for 10 at £350 per head. We did look a bit conspicuous trooping through the diners to the upstairs room. However, not as conspicuous as our waiter trolling backwards and forwards (through the restaurant) to and from the bar down the street (repeatedly) with ten pints of Kronenburg on a tray. In a tail-coat. Although he held the heavy tray very elegantly at shoulder height with just the fingertips of his left hand.

Fever pitch, grub eaten (but lost on us) and the match started.

A short end to the story: a young 18 year old called Michael Owen picked up the ball just inside the Argentine half and waved two or three seasoned England players out of his path before smashing the ball high up into the net. You can imagine our reaction.

Ten seconds later the Maitre D’ appeared breathless at the top of the stairs, pointed at the floor and screamed one of the only English words he knew: ‘CEILING!!!!’

Later we caught the 1am train back to La Rochelle. I still think the Argentine winner was one of the cleverest goals I’ve ever seen. France won the World Cup.’