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   June 8, 2002 | 1100 IST



France get the blues

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Britons... and baying for blood

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Chindu Sreedharan

Now, who would have thought that beneath their Alaskan aloofness and stiff upper lip, they are a violent, bloodthirsty bunch?

The British are, take it from me. Especially when it comes to football, and they are playing Argentina.

Nevada Smith's At Nevada Smithís, the all-England bar at 74th Third Avenue, from 7:30 am they screamed for blood. And when it spurted from Argentinean Killy Gonzalez's nose, after British captain David Beckham's arm connected violently, there was a thunderous eruption.

"Donít f**** with us!" yelled the hardcore British football freak near me, beer sloshing from his plastic mug. Then he took up the chant, "Beckham, Beckham, Beckham..."

Around him, in the basement of Nevadaís, were more Englishmen, and a few women, holding more beer mugs. A big screen in one corner and four smaller televisions brought in, live, the blood feud between football's greatest rivals.

"Itís gonna be a killer," said a man, built like a rugby player gleefully. "We will ***k Ďem!"

The bar on one side had frozen the minute the game kicked off. People stood around, in small groups, and singly, beers forgotten in their hands.

The only anomaly among the teeming mass was a dark man .. most certainly not British .. lost to football, sleeping it off on one of the few benches, and another, presumably Argentinean, wearing a Maradona football jersey.

Upstairs, in the main bar of Nevadaís (which incidentally serves only 'football and beer', though you can bring in your own coffee and such), you had an even more vigorous bunch of cheering, swearing, jumping, clapping fanatics.

Nevada was almost full when I arrived They stood there, packed like sardines, some with their shirts off, some with the English flag wrapped around them, upper lips loosened to an extent that would have been shocking anywhere but here.

"Come on, England," screamed a girl in a red dress, "Don't let them in!"

The place had been almost full even when I arrived nearly an hour before the match. People stood around in little clusters, watching a re-run of the Spain-Paraguay encounter. Football fever hadnít yet got to them.

The mood changed as they began showing the highlights of the infamous 1998 World Cup match, which England lost after a red card benched Beckham.

"Thatís a shame!" the girl in red said, as the screen flashed that image. "They are cheats, the Argentineans!"

"Weíll kill 'em this time," said her boyfriend.

"Don't do that, you ass****!" shouted another above unified booing, when, some six minutes into the game, one of the Argentineans crashed into an English player.

"Kill him!" went the crowd seconds later, when the English, in a string of continuing fouls, felled an opponent.

And a little later when Gabriel Batistuta fouled, there were four-letter words buzzing around like nobodyís business.

"Kill that bastard, kill him.. ."

Around which point commentator John Helms said, They aren't taking any prisoners here..."

Into minute 17, the Brits took a corner kick and failed to convert. A collective sigh of disappointment went up.

"Come on, England," a bespectacled youngster said, almost in a prayer, "what the ***k is wrong with you, guys?"

"Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh," went the crowd again, when six minutes on Owen connected with a Nicky Butt pass... . It beat goalie Pablo Cavallero, only to rebound off the post.

A minute on, the ball was in the British court. "Stand up, stand up, stand up guysssss, come onnnnnn, donít let them ***k around!!!"

Goalkeeper David Seaman foiled Batistua's header, and the crowd went wild.

"Seaman, Seaman, Seaman... "

Two minutes on, an Argentinean defender was down. "Faker! He is acting!" screamed the girl in red. "Cheat!!!"

And so it went till Beckham drew fresh blood. Some seven minutes on, as defender Mauricio Pochettino tripped Owen in the Argentinean goal area, there was an initial roar of rage ... and then celebration.

People hugged, sloshing beer on each other, and did energetic jigs. It was a penalty, and they were certain it would go in.

"Come on Beckham, ***k'em Beckam, come on Beckam..."

Beckham Beckham prepared for the honor... a beer mug dropped to the floor wetting my feet... the ball smacked home... the crowd erupted... into a jumping, prancing, swearing, shouting celebration that only football can manage!

When the play got underway again, there were big smiles around, and a noticeable drop in tension. You could almost hear them saying, okay, now we are on safer ground .. and on that note, the first half ended...

"We love you, England, we do... We love you England, we do... Oh, England, We Love You!" The second half started off thus.

45:37, Argentina is on the offensive. Seaman deflects an attempt. Claps all around, chants in Seamanís honor, and also against Argentina:

"What the ***kiní hell was that... What the ***kiní hell was that..."

48:00, England hits back. An attempt, which Cavallero saves. Disappointment all around. Then the chant, "England, England, England", interspersed with claps.

Then on, the Argentineans seemed to go all out on the offensive. Swear words and claps continued to flow, especially when Owen Hargreaves went out injured and Trevor Sinclair came in, but not at the feverish pitch it was before the first goal.

England fans at the bar There were more raids on the English side and quite a few attempts, and every time, the Argentineans missed the mark, the English booed.

Suddenly it was 80 minutes, then 85, 87. Argentinean attacks dominated the match at this point.

The girl in red was holding her hands to the side of her head, pleading, as it were, "Come on, England, you canít afford a goal now... come on..."

And then it was the end. Fans jumped into air as a single unit at the final whistle. Big, medium and small groups hugged each other and performed the 'football dance'. I found myself forced into a similar kind of jig, just to save my feet from being trampled on.

I moved outside quickly, leaving the bar floor wet with beer, the cheering fans performing for a television crew, the F-words, the jigs, the noise, and the dark man still sleeping in his seat...

Outside there was an altercation. Young English fans in a circle were booing the man in the Maradona jersey. One of the crowd stepped up to tap him in the chest and said: "Maradona is a cheat, a liar, a bastard. ***k him, and ***k you!"

"He is an ***hole who knows nothing," the Maradona fan said of the youngster later. "An ***hole. There are plenty like him watching football."

Photographs: Paresh Gandhi


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