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England might not win any popularity awards but travelling fans take some beating for loyalty

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England supporters show their true colours in Manaus before their opener against Italy. Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

England supporters show their true colours in Manaus before their opener against Italy. Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

England supporters show their true colours in Manaus before their opener against Italy. Photo: Adam Pretty/Getty Images

The well-dressed Englishman with a smart shirt and jeans that was more 'Saturday night in London' than a 'World Cup Monday in Rio' stood obediently as he was frisked by the Brazilian police.

Then, after a brief chat with the uniformed guards of Lapa Presente, a special force tasked with the job of looking after the thriving bohemian district packed with bars and restaurants, he walked around the corner with them.

Minutes before, these officers had broken up a cheerful street party led by Chilean and Argentinian fans by needlessly blasting pepper spray into the good-natured crowds for the crime of temporarily blocking Lapa traffic.

Their next task was a smoother operation and less of a surprise to the victim. Seconds after disappearing from sight, the smartly attired tourist emerged from the alleyway struggling to find his way, temporarily blinded by a direct hit of spray from close range.

An Irish girl wandered over to check what had happened. Once he'd regained his senses, the lanky Englishman offered an explanation.

He'd been spotted purchasing cocaine and, rather than being taken off to the cells, he'd reached a compromise that effectively consisted of a punishment spraying.

The wonderful ending to his tale was the claim that he'd come to Brazil for a break from his job as a policeman.

Earlier that day, a French cop had been detained and charged in Rio for using cannabis and trying to bribe officers to get out of trouble, so, clearly, his English counterpart had a better sense of what makes the local authorities tick.

In the process, he avoided featuring in what would surely have been a unique episode of Banged Up Brits Abroad.

If you've missed that show, it provides ample evidence for a commonly aired view that our friends from across the water can be a pretty dreadful bunch when they travel overseas, a label that is frequently and unfairly extended to their football fraternity.

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The actions of the morons that tore up Lansdowne Road in 1995 is a prime example of the dark days when unsavoury elements latched onto sport when trouble was their real passion.

English football once had a thriving hooligan culture and anecdotal tales from the last club season would suggest a lingering element remains below the surface, but the perception that their national team brings trouble is dated.

The aforementioned miscreant that fell foul of the law was guilty of engaging in behaviour that wouldn't be alien to the 'best fans in the world'.

Truthfully, having witnessed the latest implosion on this stage, it's hard not to feel desperately sorry for the long-suffering and genuine English fans. Personally, there was a time when a certain pleasure was derived from the dramatic failures of the Three Lions, especially in the heady days of Skinner, Baddiel and football coming home.

Now, the instinctive reaction is pity. Plenty of Irish people still enjoy every second of their misery and that will always be the way.

The issue of whether wanting English success is acceptable remains an easy go-to question for vox-pop generators.

It even polarises our professional footballers.

On Twitter last week, Darron Gibson, a good friend of Wayne Rooney and either a current or former team-mate of a large number of Roy Hodgson's squad, was castigated by a smattering of Irish fans for wishing England good luck against Uruguay.

In contrast, his international colleagues James McClean and Andy Keogh, neither of whom would have the same connections, made it clear over the past fortnight that they were leaning the opposite way and received vitriol from the other side.

"Paddy, s**t, Irish, useless, f**kwit, ginger c**t," replied one particularly irate user, who disliked Keogh's enjoyment of Mario Balotelli's header that inflicted the first defeat on Hodgson's hapless charges.

Of course, it's the hype machine around the England group that is often at the root cause of the ill-will towards their fortunes. Still, it's rare that the scale of their relatively consistent travelling support is recognised outside their own borders.

Four years ago in South Africa, Fabio Capello's flops were one of the few countries to bring 10,000+ with them.

FRUSTRATED

They've travelled in considerable numbers to Brazil, despite the excessive cost, without any report of serious trouble and, heck, they've had ample reason to feel frustrated. Italy and Spain, the last two World Cup winners, would love the same entourage.

In Sao Paulo Airport on Thursday night, in the hours after the Luis Suarez show, there was no edge around the departures terminal as the white-shirted throngs prepared to get out of the city.

Peacefully, they queued to charge their iPhones, talk loudly about the merits of Brazilian women and chat about when they're due back to work.

Expectations were lower than usual ahead of this tilt and there was no evidence of grief or anger. If anything, they seemed strangely resigned to it all, already prepared to get on with their lives.

Perhaps they knew they were among the luckier ones, who had at least been present for a spectacular occasion.

Further plane-loads of English enthusiasts are due to land here ahead of tomorrow's dead rubber with Costa Rica feeling the same deflation as the Irish men and women that landed in Poznan two years ago for an Italian tie which had lost its lustre thanks to what had gone before.

The latecomers in Belo Horizonte will have spent even greater amounts of money for tickets that have plummeted in value.

On Friday night in Fortaleza, a pair of Aston Villa regulars, who are here to watch other countries, wondered aloud if future generations would have the same affiliation with England's fortunes.

Traditionally, the core body of the support was always made up by fans of lower league outfits, with the hardcore of the Premier League elite more concerned with their club's health.

The concern is that, if these failures continue to stack up, then the Scunthorpe, Oldham and Gillingham flags will slowly begin to drift away.

NOVELTY

After all, there's no sense of novelty about their major tournament expeditions.

Austria/Switzerland 2008 is the only soirée they've missed out on this century and, under the revised format for the Euros, they'll find it harder not to qualify.

Despite knowing there's a fair chance that every second summer will bring disappointment, they keep coming back in a show of impressive loyalty or blind faith.

Whatever they're feeling now, you suspect that, when France 2016 comes around, England will be backed by massive numbers.

History has ensured they'll never win a popularity contest, but it would be a quieter and poorer tournament without them.

 

The World Cup at large

DUTCH FAN MAKES SURE HE WILL NEVER FORGET SPAIN WIN

Robin van Persie's diving header against Spain provided one of the lasting images of the World Cup, but for one supporter who marked the moment with a large tattoo on his back, that is quite literally the case.

The diehard Netherlands fan covered half his back with two drawings – one depicting the visionary face of Holland boss Louis van Gaal and the other showing Van Persie's memorable follow-through on the ground after he had headed the ball into the net.

Van Persie seemed impressed by the tribute, sharing the photo via his Twitter account.

GAMBLER LEFT SWEATING UNTIL MESSI WEAVES HIS LATE MAGIC

Lionel Messi's last-minute winner against Iran proved invaluable to Argentina's hopes of qualifying top from Group F, but for one confident supporter the goal was worth exactly $380,000.

The confident supporter was minutes away from losing $350,000 that he bet on Argentina to beat Iran as the favourites struggled to break down their opponents. The relieved gambler, who lodged his bet in Las Vegas, earned himself $30,000 when Messi weaved his magic at the death.

POLICE INCREASE PRESENCE AROUND THE MARACANA

Security around the Maracana Stadium in Rio was massively beefed up ahead of the Belgium v Russia match after organisers were severely embarrassed by Chile fans breaking through entrances last week.

Fans had to go through three police cordons, showing each time that they had valid tickets for the match, while other officers in riot gear ringed the stadium.

There was another line of police officers at the entrance to the media centre, the site where the ticketless Chile fans had found a weak spot. Organisers said they had increased the number of military police from 2,500 to 3,100 for the game.

FIFA WORK OVER TIME TO GET BIOLOGICAL PASSPORTS FINISHED

Seven Costa Rica players instead of the usual two were asked to attend post-match doping tests after the win over Italy – but FIFA says that was just to ensure all players in the tournament undergo tests for the new biological passport.

A FIFA spokeswoman said: "The standard procedure is two players. However, the five additional players were for tests which had to be completed for setting up biological passports. In the case of Costa Rica, this was not because of anything suspicious."

NUMBERS GAME

15 - Goals from subs – same as entire 2010 tournament.

10 - Goals scored by the Dutch in their last three games.

50 - Nicolas N'koulou is in line to win his 50th cap for Cameroon.

228 - Minutes since Fred last scored for Brazil.

- Croatia have never won their final group game.


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