|Ga-ga over the boys in green
By Michael Davies
Special to Page 2
Day 2: Come on, you boys in green
Yokohama, June 1, 8 a.m.
Am I really this excited about breakfast or is it just that France -- yes. my friends, as in the French -- lost to Senegal last night in the opening game of the World Cup?
Today I am traveling about 200 miles northeast to Niigata on the northern coast of Honshu to see Ireland play its first match against Cameroon. These guys have been through a lot recently with the controversial departure from training camp of their captain, midfield general and one world-class player, Roy Keane of Manchester United. I love Cameroon, I have money on them, and I love the way they play football. Soccernet, furthermore, is reporting that their brilliant right midfielder/defender, Geremi, is on his way from Real Madrid to my beloved Chelsea. I want him to be stonking good. But my heart is with Ireland.
I am of Gaelic blood. Via saff east London.
The JR Tokaido Line local to Tokyo Station, 9:26 a.m.
Wait a minute, I take it back about the diversity -- we just stopped at Kawasaki (not making it up) and a guy wearing a kilt, the Irish flag painted on his face and Kermit the frog in a Glasgow Celtic shirt on his shoulders, gets on at the other end of the carriage.
The younger Japanese all around me, men and women, are all reading the sports pages about the France-Senegal game. I wonder what they made of it.
"The Senegalese are called Lions, but Haji Diouf, a cub of just 21, moves with the stealth and surprise of an eel." That was Rob Hughes in the International Herald Tribune, but the Japanese could relate to that, they could picture it in animation.
(Note to self: Must practice Japanese art of vertical newspaper folding. More on this later.)
Getting off the train, I pass the Irish guy in the kilt and Kermit. He's actually Japanese.
Tokyo Station, 10:15 a.m.
But they can sing.
Don't need that #@%*, Roy Keane
Come on, you boys,
Come on, you boys in green.
And they do. Again and again and again and again and ...
The Asahi 97 Shinkansen to Niigata, 10:45 a.m.
This seems appropriate, but thoroughly confuses the hordes of merry (a k a drunk) Irish fans on almost every other seat on the 15-car train. They want bacon, runny eggs and more beer, at least that's what the ones behind me ask for, thoroughly confusing the shy, perhaps terrified, staccato-bowing, retreating attendant who's passing out the hot towels (which the drunken Irishman in front of me, one of several dressed as Leprechauns, tries to eat).
They sing for the next two hours, football songs, pop songs, songs I can't write about here. Five minutes from Niigata, with its "Big Swan" stadium, majestic, in the distance, the singing stops and they stare, perhaps as their forefathers upon the silence of a verdant pre-battlefield.
goes jingle, jangle,
along the banks of the Royal Canal
It is one voice ... and a fine one too. A poignant reminder of how far away they are from home. How much they love their country. And how they've all had far too much to drink.
Niigata Stadium, The Big Swan, 3:25 p.m.
Away to the right, a small congregation of Cameroonians, as many women as men, drum and dance to the beat of African music in traditional costume. I raise my binoculars. They're doing a butt dance. The Japanese around them do not join in.
From the start the plucky Irish lads are overpowered by the enormous men from Cameroon. With the continuous beat of their drums behind them, they outflank their opponents, the Irish midfield falling back to cover its defense. The Cameroonians have them where they want them. Even in possession, the Irish midfield is too deep to link up with their forwards, Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, who chase forlornly for clearings amongst the trees all around them.
After 18 minutes, the excellent Irish 'keeper, Shay Given, makes a save and I make a note: "Given save on 18 changes match?"
But on 39 minutes, in an almost mirror image of Senegal's goal against France the night before, Samuel Eto'o power wiggles down the right, leaves Steve Staunton sprawling and Patrick Mboma puts it in falling backward from no more than eight yards.
I make another note: "first two goals in 2002 WC scored by Africans on their asses."
But only as far as Matt Holland.
The next three seconds are in slow motion. Matt Holland has endured a tough season, relegated from the English Premier League with his club side Ipswich. In qualifying, he scored a couple of superb goals from long range, and that was probably in the minds of at least some of the 7,000 or so to our left who gasped collectively in anticipation as his right foot swung all 152 pounds of Matt Holland into the champagne emblazoned adidas Fevernova.
As the ball rippled the perfectly white back o' the net, the green roar was epic, and almost primeval.
As was my own. Screw journalistic impartiality! I'm on vacation.
The game ends 1-1 (so Given's save was crucial). The Irish might have won it had the woodwork not saved a curling 30-yarder from Robbie Keane with six minutes left. But all around, it is a great result for the boys in green, and a deserved excorcism, however, temporary, of the ever-present ghost of Roy Keane.
As I look to my left, my excitement for the jubilant Irish fans involved in a mutual lovefest with their jubilant and emotional heroes is tempered by a sobering thought.
It is going to be a loud, drunken 2½-hour train journey back to Tokyo.
Asahi No. 356 to Tokyo Station, 9:40 p.m.
No one can spoil a party like the Germans.
The Pan Pacific Hotel, Yokohama, 12:45 a.m.
I fall asleep reading the Japan Times about the Queen's Golden Jubilee and the celebrations planned to celebrate her 50 years on the throne in London. While over on CNN International there is a tribute show to Larry King's mere 45 years in broadcasting. This seems more than a little disrespectful to the crown.
I have folded my newspaper in the Japanese manner. You should try this tomorrow. Fold the paper vertically down the middle, both front to back and back to the front, so that there's a clear crisp line down the middle then ...
I'm too tired to explain it to you. Tomorrow, it's the first Eng-er-land game versus Sweden.
God Save The Queen and all that. Let's hope she is not embarrassed by her subjects in Saitama.
Michael Davies, a native of London, is executive producer of ABC's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire." He'll be filing five diary entries per week from the World Cup for Page 2.