Thousands of football fans packed into pubs across Belfast yesterday to watch England’s defeat by the Germans. Ivan Little did a pub crawl to find unionist and nationalist areas united in support for the eventual winners
It was just before three o’clock on Belfast’s Shankill Road, minutes away the much-hyped battle of Bloemfontein. And in the complicated conundrum that is Belfast, football fans who are unashamedly loyalist were showing their respect for the British national anthem even though most of them were hoping the players bellowing out God Save The Queen with them were going to lose.
And upstairs in the 1st Shankill Northern Ireland Supporters Club several ex-servicemen who fought the Germans in the Second World War were adding to the bizarre scenario, by privately backing their erstwhile bitter foes to dump England out of the 19th World Cup.
All over Belfast the same contradictions to the perceived norms were perfectly illustrated by an unusual unity between unionists and nationalists who may be totally divided on their British/Irish heritage but who could hardly have been closer in their desire to see England flounder in South Africa.
“It’s nothing to do with the English players,” said prominent loyalist and supporters club official Winston ‘Winkie’ Rea
“It’s the media and the commentators who are so arrogant about England and who ignore the way the rest of us in the UK are feeling.”
Another senior loyalist, William ‘Plum’ Smith, was wearing a Brazil top and flip-flops to watch the match.
“I want Brazil to win the trophy but today I was just happy to see Germany beat England. Most people in the club feel that way.”
Scots-born Peter McGuire agreed. “If the English were to win it you’d never hear the end of it – like 1966 all over again.”
But Norman Gillespie was cheering on England. “I’m a Manchester United fan and I want to see Wayne Rooney do well,” he said.
Another United fan, Julie McCrory, said: “I couldn’t care less about Wayne Rooney when he’s playing for England.”
Upstairs former soldier Paddy Horohan, who had travelled from Kilkenny for a veterans’ function, was being diplomatic. “I want the best team to win,” he said.
Outside the club the flags of the 32 World Cup finalists have been flown in rotation even one from the Ivory Coast that is strikingly similar to the Irish tricolour.
But on the other side of the peaceline, on the Springfield Road, a lone German flag was fluttering near the Orient Bar while inside the drinkers were nailing their colours firmly to the mast of Joachim Loew’s men. At the 20-minute mark the entire bar went crazy as Miroslav Klose put Germany in front. Twelve minutes later the noise was deafening as Lukas Podolski made it two.
Not even Matt Upson’s reply for England rattled the fans.
In the Glenowen Inn on the Glen Road even pro-German fans admitted that England should have had a second goal when Frank Lampard’s shot undoubtedly crossed the line.
Teenager Ryan Jenkins said “It was definitely a goal. But Geoff Hurst got a goal which didn‘t cross the line in 1966, so what goes around comes around.”
The victory celebrations spilled out from bars onto the Falls Road but one man got disapproving looks from visitors on a tourist bus for his decision to dress up in a Nazi uniform.
Away from the pubs, businesses around Belfast were virtual men-free zones yesterday afternoon.
At one DIY store security guard Jonathan Thorndyke, whose father is English, heard it all on the radio and said: “I’m delighted the Germans have won. That’ll keep the English quiet for a while.”
But one of the happiest people in Northern Ireland was Munich-born Petra Ellis, who lives in Donaghadee.
“I’m quietly confident that we can win the World Cup now,” said Petra as she toasted Germany with a glass of white wine ... from Italy.