Speaker by Various Artists

Beautiful game

by David Williams

I expected to have a few run-ins with Englishmen the day after the World Cup Final. However I was surprised when it happened at one of the homes of English culture - the Royal Albert Hall in the snooty Kensington suburb of London. AND it was about ICE CREAM!

Yes, this sour-faced Pom had made his way to the front of the queue at the interval of Classical Spectacular when one of two women serving the frozen treats turned to me and asked me what I wanted. I told her and, ignoring the serving girl's adjacent co-worker, this grey hair whirled to me and asked angrily: "Excuse me, is there not a queue here?" I calmly assured him there was but the woman had looked at me, not him.

Enraged, he tried to stare me down but I think he realised that wasn't getting him any ice cream and he turned away. The serving girl turned back to us, but not to reassure the fuming Englishman - she'd collected my order (chocolate and sticky toffee, for the record). I suggested she might want to take my friend's order (before he spontaneously combusted) and she just pointed to her bored co-worker who was waiting for work.

Vindicated (and now in possession of ice cream) I said mockingly: "Hey buddy, you make sure you have a nice day." Obviously not used to being treated with such disdain, Mr Grey Hair said: "Don't you be smart to ME!"

It was time for the killer blow. As I brushed past him, I leaned close and said: "Whatever mate. Outside." I walked off, not allowing him to answer. I didn't see him later.

It was at Classical Spectacular that I DID hear the most gloating after England's World Cup victory, however. From the conductor as well! After the first piece of inspiring classical music Anthony Inglis welcomed us to the show, "and the home of the RUGBY WORLD CUP!". He even stopped the applause for baritone Grant Doyle to announce "he doesn't deserve it! He's Australian!"

Not content with humiliating Mr Doyle, by bringing him back on stage for a round of applause while he draped himself in the St George's flag, he later got stuck into the band of the Welsh Guards. "We beat them too! We're INVINCIBLE!" he crowed, whipping the hall into a frenzy with a rousing version of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". He did later admit Wales can't play rugby but they can sing - which must have made Welsh tenor Geraint Todd feel a little better.

Since I was in the company of an Australian that afternoon I very quickly reached a decision about gloating Poms. I bloody loved it! I mean, if that's the best they can throw at us then they can have the Cup (for now). The other thing is that despite getting roasted (English football players please consult the dictionary for proper usage) in the Australian press all week, their English counterparts have been so busy celebrating they've forgotten to give it back! Sure the Aussies feted England after their win (remember it was one try apiece), but I would have expected the gloating to include more running down of the opposition.

The one exception I can come up with came from The Sun. Sydney Daily Telegraph journo Peter Kent had called for fellow Aussies to make a racket outside the England team's hotel to keep players awake on the eve of the final. So the English tabloid got its own back (on a reporter working for a fellow Murdoch paper!) by printing Mr Kent's phone number and encouraging its readers to vent their spleen at him. Oh, and they did. Gotta love that, but it wasn't really a vitriolic attack on all things Australian.

Even now, The Sun and its competitors have had two days to publish comparisons between Aussies and worms (like they did with Jacques Chirac) and the normally overactive press have resisted. For once, instead of running people down the papers have been exceedingly positive - with most of them offering eight-page souvenir pullouts of the World Cup feat. It really has turned this football-mad nation on its head. Not only did the rugby make every back page, it dominated every FRONT page as well and led the BBC 6 o'clock news on Saturday night.

I guess it pays to put yourself in their shoes. I got a bit of an insight when I asked one of my workmates, Christine, if she was getting up to watch the game. She said no, she'd be too nervous. "I just want to wake up and, hopefully, hear that we won. I might watch the game later." What got me was that pleading look in her eye as she said: "It would just be nice to win something. We never win anything!" Remember this is the country of Tim Henman's Wimbledon hopes and Michael Vaughan's Ashes dreams. Poor buggers.

So they're not used to winning. That was obvious at the Greyhound Inn where I watched the game in Carshalton, south-west London. After the floor had stopped feeling like a trampoline from all the English bodies jumping up and down in celebration, I steadied myself for the belligerent gloating. But it didn't come.

The English bloke in front of me who I'd just met, Darren, just kept shaking his head, saying, "I can't believe it", over and over. Not long after he was wiping a tear from his eye. I was reminded of a telly report featuring an old English geezer who had travelled to Australia for the game. Whilst proudly clutching his wife he said if they won it would be the proudest day in his life - except his wedding day and the birth of his kids, he quickly added. One guy at the Greyhound even came up and shook our hands (I supported the Aussies, quite vocally from what I remember), thanking us for coming and told us he enjoyed our support.

The pure joy they exhibited at winning was really sweet, like that of a kid bringing home their first A‚ on a report card. Their enthusiasm, also childlike, was infectious. You couldn't help but be caught up in it. And, in the main, they were really humble in victory. Surprisingly so. Maybe things will be different when the tens of thousands of Poms arrive back from Down Under, but I'm glad I was here to partake of the magic of a country in celebration.

Well, until Sunday that is. Chelsea's got Manchester United don't you know and, as far as these blokes are concerned, there's only one beautiful game.