Wed, Jul 12, 2006 - Page 19 News List

World Cup: Fans full of praise for `best' ever World Cup


Ian Musgrave ought to know how the World Cup has changed from the viewpoint of a fan.

The violence has died out, said Musgrave, who attended six European Championships as well as five World Cups. And a lot more women are interested -- even his wife wears England colors and watches the games, which never used to be the case.

"This World Cup is the best, the best policed, the best atmosphere" said Musgrave, a plasterer from Rochdale in England. "Yesterday, I went to the toilet at the Germany game in Berlin and the women's queue was longer than for the men. You used to walk right in there -- there were no ladies."

Women viewers made up 40 percent of the worldwide television audience for the Germany World Cup -- a record, according to FIFA. That helped the planet's biggest sporting event crack 30 billion viewers for the first time.

Women were especially present at the 300 official big screens across Germany, where fans across the globe gathered to party and watch the games. They chanted with the men and turned flags from across the globe into shawls, hats, miniskirts and seemingly every piece of clothing imaginable.

Peaceful party

"The big screens, fantastic -- where else can you party peacefully with so many people from all over the world?" said Corinna Krause, who drove four hours from Bremen to join more than 750,000 revelers at Berlin's fan mile.

For Musgrave, they solved an old problem which plagued the World Cup.

"People didn't have any place to go when they didn't have a ticket, so they just hung around the stadiums. That's where you got a lot of the trouble, when they tried to get in somehow," he said.

World Cup organizers predicted 7 million would watch matches at the big screens; by the quarter-finals the spectators had already topped 11 million. They fit perfectly to another growing phenomena, World Cup tourists, or fans who come without tickets to the host country just to soak up the atmosphere and party at soccer's showcase.

"It's incredible -- when you are here you feel the energy so much more than at home," said Guus Wantia, who drove from Amsterdam to be in the midst of 35,000 English fans who watched their team's bitter loss on penalties to Portugal on a big screen in Gelsenkirchen.

Nowhere else, Musgrave said, have so many people at a World Cup worn the colors of a country not their own -- another sign of just how eager people were just to party together and have a good time.

Two million World Cup visitors poured into the country, according to German officials, and many -- when their own heroes weren't on the field -- picked a country playing that day, then swathed themselves in those colors. The Germans leaned toward underdogs like Trinidad and Tobago and Ghana.

Angry countrymen

At the 2002 World Cup held in South Korea and Japan, Musgrave recalls how angry his countrymen were when he walked around in a blue-white Japanese jersey. He liked the host country, then bought it on a whim.

"English fans called me a traitor -- I almost got into a fight at least 10 times," Musgrave said.

He credited the tactics of German police with curbing the violence that often overshadowed past World Cups. At France in 1998, he said snarling dogs were used to try and intimidate troublemakers -- and that often provokes the opposite reaction.

As a young fan in England, where violence is uncommon, he remembered the urge to break out when authorities got too heavy-handed.

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