Greetings from the fair German city of Cologne. Oh, did I not mention that CUAS was going to be live and interactive from the World Cup this week?....
A ludicrously early start yesterday as fellow CUAS stab-in-the-dark predictions guru Sarah and I headed to darkest Essex. Stansted Airport wasn’t anywhere near as busy as I had anticipated but there were a fair sprinkling of footie kits and extra flights to Stuttgart.
Of course we weren’t going to Stuttgart (unlike a bloke in a ridiculous pink linen suit and Nick Hancock) – drawing an England game out of the FIFA ticket ballot would have been far too lucky. Instead, we were heading to Cologne.
I have never flown with Germanwings before, and, indeed, have never been to Germany. The flight was only about a third full, and we seemed to land about ten minutes after taking off. The Germans clearly don’t have immigration concerns, as we found ourselves at the baggage carousel and outside the airport without the inconvenience of any passport control.
Our taxi driver spoke limited (read “no”) English, so decided to communicate by reading a broadsheet newspaper whilst on the autobahn and by pointing at relevant pictures and articles about the England game. He dropped us off at our hotel in central Cologne, whose reception was absolutely chock full of Koreans, no doubt off home in disappointment.
So, out we headed.
Cologne itself is nice. We sat and had a bit of lunch (everything on the menu is pork, pork, potatoes, pork, sausage, pork, potatoes, pork sausage, pork, sausage or pork). I had the pork with sausage, Sarah the same. They also have a local brew called Kolsch, which slips down very nicely also. Necking a few Kolsch’s in a place overlooking the Rhine was a very nice way to spend a Sunday lunchtime.
There are quite a few footie fans in the city. The English and Portuguese were the most obvious, both of whom had a match. We headed over to the Heumarkt, in the centre of Cologne where the official “fan fest” site was located, and bumped into a couple of England fns who told us that you were only allowed in the FanFest for an hour at a time. After some banter about how “it’s only worth watching England in the first half anyway”, we realized that this information was clearly b*llocks.
So, after a pit stop at the hotel, we headed into the FanFest about an hour and a half before the England v Ecuador match.
Equipped with anther kolsch, we wandered to the big screen and were greeted by the unnerving sight of a bloke in a vest and red leather trousers on the stage with his group. They were a Queen tribute band and were “wowing” (I use that word advisedly) the crowd with a series of slightly ropey Queen covers.
I am vaguely embarrassed by this, but I thought I would throw myself into the atmosphere (and a few beers on a hot day hadn’t helped my restraint) by getting embroiled in a Radio Ga-Ga moment…..
I would also mention at this point that it was chuffing hot. Estimates put the temperature at about 34 degrees with no breeze whatsoever. Standing under the shade of the beer tent, it was still unbelievably hot.
Just as the FanFest was filled, 5pm came and the match kicked off. It was a pretty uninspiring first half – a mistake from John Terry almost cost England a goal but an excellent last ditch tackle from Ashley Cole saved England.
The second half was about five minutes old when, without any warning, the sky turned black. You know that bit in “Independence Day” when the alien ships appear over the cities? It was just like that. Then the wind came. Frantic closing of the beer tent ensued as the gales began.
The announcer came over the tannoy and told the watching crowds that “if you want to watch the match somewhere dry, you should leave now…” Of course no-one left.
The thunder and lightning began shortly after, as the sky got blacker still. Then, England were awarded a free kick just outside the left side of the Ecuadorian penalty area.
The wind continued to howl and the first spots of rain began to fall on the amassed Cologne crowd.
This is what happened next. I swear this is absolutely genuine.
So, the big screen flickered back into action as the Ecuadorians lined up on the half way line. No-one was quite sure what had gone on until the German TV coverage showed a replay of Beckham’s free-kick hitting the back of the Ecuadorian net. Slightly belatedly, the crowd went potty and began the singing.
And then the rain came.
It wasn’t a shower. Or a downpour. It was a black sky rainfest of biblical proportions. Everyone began to run in every direction, as we joined the exodus from the town square and headed towards some neighbouring hostelries. They were both full already, and so we ended up in a pizza restaurant with a large number of other England fans and some bemused German families who had come for a quiet Italian meal with their kids. To be fair to the restaurant, they did a reasonable job of accommodating us for the last 25 minutes, before they made us all sit at tables when the final whistle went.
We then had an amusing argument with some fellow English fans who were complaining about the performance, and Sven’s tactics. “The Germans”, said I, “took to the streets in their millions last night to celebrate getting to the quarter-finals, and here you are complaining about our performance. We should be out in the street celebrating reaching the quarter-finals also….”
I asked this young guy if he’d be bothered about how we performed if we ended up winning the trophy. “Actually, yes I would a little bit,” he replied.
What a load of old cobblers that is. I told him so.
Off they went, and we found the BierMuseum locally which has eighteen varieties of beer on tap. Having sampled several of those, we sat down in a local steakhouse and watched Portugal v Holland in the company of some Swiss fans.
An interesting game, and probably the least dirty game with four sendings off that I can ever remember. The longer the game went on, the more we wanted Portugal to win (from a selfish England perspective as Costinha and Deco will be banned and Ronaldo was injured). Of course they did hold on, and the Portuguese population of Cologne then took to the streets with their flags waving and horns blaring. That’s what the World Cup is all about….
Our match later on – we are off to the Rhein-Energie stadium to see Switzerland v Ukraine. More on that later….
(nb - thanks to Sarah for amazing technical genius and patience on the video front)