World Cup 2010 England fans underwhelmed by victory

Image caption England fans in London finally got a chance to cheer

When scores of England fans gathered in east London's Rich Mix cultural centre, they knew only a victory would guarantee a place in the knockout stages of the World Cup.

The tension was palpable.

The stakes were high. After all, England hadn't failed to qualify for the knockout stages of a World Cup since 1958.

And in Slovenia they faced an opponent with a population of two million people, compared to England's 52 million.

On the eve of the match captain Steven Gerrard said it would be an "absolute disaster" for this group of players, sometimes referred to as the Golden Generation, to go home after the group stages.

Was this going to be a new low for the England team's array of multimillionaire stars?

The mood prior to kick-off was far from jubilant. In fact, it was tense and grey, in stark contrast to the colourful flags of the nations competing for the World Cup which adorned the room.

George Alvin, 23, who studies at the London College of Fashion and came to watch the game with two friends, vocalised this sense of anxiety when he predicted England's exit after a 1-1 draw shortly before kick-off.

Big screens showed the game throughout the country
Image caption Big screens showed the game throughout the country

"Before the World Cup I was expecting a lot because of the amount of quality there's supposed to be in the team. I haven't seen it yet," he said.

The publicity surrounding the Premier League's finest home-grown players had raised expectation to an unreasonable level, he said.

Fellow fashion student Tom Bratt, 22, picked up the downbeat theme.

Despite predicting a narrow England win, he said the team's performances against the USA and Algeria had been "embarrassing".

That fear of an early exit seemed to infect the crowd of some 200 people.

Early on, the multi-ethnic, but overwhelmingly male, audience watched the big screen in a near hush.

Almost universally hunched and motionless, their faces were illuminated by the giant projection.

Cheers and jeers

John Terry's decision to openly question Fabio Capello's tactics in a press conference, perhaps coupled with allegations about his private life in recent months, seemed to turn the crowd against the former team captain.

George Alvin, Tom Bratt and Rowan Corr
Image caption Student George Alvin (left) and friends were a bit glum before the game

Early on there were boos from the fans at Rich Mix when Terry touched the ball - a pattern that started when he came into view when the national anthem was sung by the players and proved to be a recurring theme until a crunching tackle by the former England captain prompted relieved cheers.

As both the tempo of the game and the pints of beer consumed increased, so did the volume.

And when Tottenham striker Jermaine Defoe scored shortly after 20 minutes, the onlookers rose as one to cheer, jump and hug each other. There were also whistles and the low, flat note of a vuvuzela.

Rhythmical clapping, chants and the stamping of feet drowned out the commentary early on in the second half, when England appeared to have the upper hand.

After a string of passes were completed, the audience clapped and cheered, while chants of "come on England" began to ring out with increasing frequency.

A collective belief in England's ability to progress in the tournament seemed to have returned and energised the throng.

But, this exuberance visibly waned when Slovenia began to put England under pressure as the game reached its climax.

The cheering seemed to hint at relief rather than triumph when the referee blew his whistle to end the game.

Despite his prediction of an early England exit being proved wrong, and admitting that the England team had shown a "massive improvement", George shrugged, as if the 1-0 victory was merely a stay of execution.

"Realistically, we'll probably go out in the next round."

This sentiment was echoed by Phil Horton, a merchant seaman from Liverpool who was in London visiting friends while on leave, who said in all likelihood England were likely to be beaten in the knockout stages "as soon as they meet a good team".

Unconvincing victory

As the crowd started leaving the venue, the mutterings and post-match armchair punditry began in earnest.

"We were good for 70% of the game, but we could and should have scored more," said Mohibul Haque, who owns a restaurant in nearby Brick Lane.

"We have to remember that Slovenia aren't a great team. Their players don't play in top leagues. That victory was nothing to be proud of. On that performance we can't win the World Cup."

His friend, retail assistant and West Ham fan Nick Day, watched the game after pleading for time off from his bosses.

He tried to explain his sense of deflation, despite the win.

"I feel like we could do a lot better. In the last 20 minutes we were starting to look tired. And in the last five minutes were hanging on.

"If we play someone slightly stronger we'll be in trouble."

And what of the team's chances now?

There seemed to be little danger of Nick succumbing to the temptation of labelling England world beaters after a victory.

"West Ham have a better chance of winning the World Cup," he said, smiling ruefully.

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