SANJJEEV K SAMYAL
Till the wee hours of Thursday, loud drunken voices could be heard in the area close to the India cricket team hotel. Almost everyone had gone home, hearts sombre after the defeat, but a few football tragics were wasted.
Wednesday evening in Nottingham had started with much energy as the time for kick-off between England and Croatia neared. The sports pubs at St Peter’s Square, Friar Lane, Old Market Area, Trent Bridge and places around the Nottingham Forest were all packed, as this beautiful town, two hours from London by train, came together to watch the biggest game of this generation – the World Cup semifinal.
A massive St George’s Cross flag adorned the entire front of the imposing Royal Concert Hall. The city was decked up for the game, English flags flew everywhere — people had it wrapped around them, flew it on cars and displayed it on their windows.
As luck would have it, for the last two cycles, the India cricket team’s tour of England has coincided with the World Cup. In 2014, when the World Cup final was on, India was playing at Trent Bridge. The Indian media contingent could comfortably watch Germany lift the title at the majestic Southern Bank sports bar on the bank of river Trent as it was a non-event in Nottingham.
Cut to Wednesday, and the popular sports pub was bursting at its seams. There was no breathing space and a sizeable queue was at the entrance, hoping to get in. The packed crowd sang along full blast as the national anthem was played at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium with the TV camera focused on the Harry Kane-led squad – the atmosphere was electric.
For the current generation, Nottingham Forest football club won’t strike a chord, but this city has seen days when it was the most dominant club in England and Europe, during the legendary manager Brian Clough’s days. Special arrangements had been made by the club to screen the game on a giant TV, but only for the club staff.
At St Peter’s square, the most happening part of the city, the young crowd had parked themselves. As the game started, police made its presence felt. The atmosphere outside the pub, The Bank, was extremely charged and a sizeable number of policemen had taken position at its gates, issuing early warnings.
At the lobby of the hotel (Britannia), opposite to where the India team is staying, some senior couples were among the crowd. They were watching England play their third semifinal.
Ian Hartnack, who described himself as an electrical officer at Sea (Merchant Navy), recalled following England’s 1966 World Cup final against West Germany. “I remember vividly, I was 21 and at Sunderland, following that final’s commentary.”
Hartnack had seen enough football to recognise quality. While he staunchly backed England during the game, he was pragmatic after the loss. “I am devastated but I believe they would have lost the final to France, even if they had played the final. France is a very strong team and will beat Croatia too. England were lucky with the draw, they got easy games at this World Cup.”
At the end of the game, as a precautionary measure, the police vans blocked the pub entrances in the city centre, but there was no trouble. Crowds converged from many lanes, making a beeline towards the bus and tram stations.
Walking in large groups, they sang patriotic anthems. Although the heartburn in their voices was unmistakable, this generation is proud of the way England had fought.