Croatia 1 England 4 A Leicester City Fan Writes
Friday 12 Sep 2008 15:57:00
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Croatia away – 10-09-2008

Coming out of the Olympic Stadium in Barcelona on Saturday night after an altogether predictable performance and result against Andorra, a glum faced bloke next to me remarks “We’re gonna get fuckin’ thrashed on Wednesday night.”  No one replies.

Fast forward three days and I’m driving down to Stansted Airport in the pouring rain and I can’t help thinking about that night at Wembley last November when Croatia deservedly dumped us out of Euro 2008 in the pouring rain.  I’m greeted at the Airport by a hundred or so men wearing skirts waiting to fly to Reykjavic, one of whom remarks “yous lot are gonna git fockin thrashed.”

Fly to Ljubljana in Slovenia and it’s gloriously sunny and very hot, things are starting to look up.  Ljubljana is a beautiful little city.  People say Paris is the most romantic city.  That’s bollocks.  Paris is a shit hole.  You want romance take the wife to this place, or even better, leave the wife at home because the Slovenian women are all stunning.

Wednesday morning, board the 8.35 Belgrade train, arriving in Zagreb at about 11.  Still sunny and hot.  Checked into my hotel.  I already knew The FA were using this hotel, but it turns out all the English press and media are staying here too.  Said hello to Sam Alladyce, who was checking in at the same time as me.  Had a wander round the city centre, quite nice although slightly spoilt by riot police stationed on every street corner kitted out like Robo-Cop.  There’s a street called ‘The street of a thousand bars’ where I settled for a while.  England fans and Croatian fans were mixing happily in the bars and in the main square, no sign of any hostility.  Yet.

As the weather was so nice, I decided to walk to The Maksimir Stadium.  The ground is completely open with no roof and the stands are all raised about 20 feet above pitch level and caged in.  There’s a running track around the pitch as well so you’re quite far away from the action.

England were backed by 3,000 travelling fans who were in good voice.  The Croatians were very noisy and colourful, I don’t think I saw one of their fans without some red and white checks on their person somewhere.

The match kicked off and after about ten minutes most England fans would’ve been happy with a draw.  ‘God save the Queen’, ‘Rule Britannia’ and the usual chants were belted out.  A few mis-placed passes and we were fearing the worst until Theo Walcott put us into a 26th minute lead.  This silenced the raucous home fans.  ‘You’re not singing anymore’ was the cry from the England end.  We got to half time with the 1-0 lead intact.  At this point we wouldn’t have settled for a draw anymore, we wanted revenge.
A nasty elbow into Joe Coles head ended his involvement in the match and ended Robert Kovacs involvement with a straight red card. 

‘Cheerio Cheerio’ came from our end as he walked to the tunnel at our end of the stadium.  Three minutes later Walcott puts us 2-0 up.  ‘Are you Scotland in disguise?’ and ‘Bilic, Bilic, what’s the score?’ rang out around the Maksimir Stadium and we could sense a famous victory.  The Croatia ‘Cauldron of Hate’ had all but evaporated four minutes later when Rooney put us 3-0 up.  ‘We can see you sneaking out’.
England were taking the piss now and no one could quite believe what was happening in front of our eyes.  Apparently Croatia had never lost a home qualifier since the break up of Yugoslavia.
Mandzukic pulled one back for the home team in the 78th minute but we didn’t let that interrupt our ‘Only one Emile Heskey’ chant or ‘Worse than Andorra, you’re fucking worse than Andorra’.

In the 82nd minute Walcott became the first England player to score a competitive hat-trick since Owen in Munich 7 years ago and sent the 3,000 England fans into raptures.

The Croatians quietly filed out of the stadium while we were locked in the away end for 45 minutes.  ‘We hate Setanta’ was sang as some pitch side interviews were taking place and eventually we were let out.  This is when it dawned on me that I might be about to find out first hand what the Croatian ‘Cauldron of Hate’ really is.

The walk back into the City was pretty frightening at times.  I’d stayed close to a mob of England lads who looked like they could more than hold their own.  After about ten minutes I was about two hundred yards ahead of them when a group of 10 or so Croat skin heads emerged from a garage doorway.  “You English?” I carried on walking, “Hey you fucking piece of shit” I carried on walking, safe in the knowledge that in about 60 seconds they were going to get a right royal kicking.  About two minutes later a group of Riot police went running past me in the opposite direction!

I didn’t fancy the city centre so I went to my hotel bar with about 30 other England fans.  Chris Waddle was in there having a drink with the rest of the press.  The inevitable comparisons with Munich were made, and rightly so.  I’d say this was our best performance and result in a qualifier since the 5-1 over Germany 7 years ago.  So whoever we draw in September 2015 should beware!

Left Zagreb early on Thursday morning.  Got speaking to an English journalist at Ljubljana airport who was pig sick because he’d agreed to go to Slovenia versus Slovakia instead of the England game because he thought we’d just get turned over!

Following England’s not too dissimilar to following Leicester - every so often you get an all time classic that makes all the dire drab defeats and 0-0s in the freezing rain worthwhile.  And make no mistake, this was an all time classic.

Next stop – Minsk.


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