Why I’m supporting my boys – Ivory Coast

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At 3am, seven hours after Germany’s 4-2 win over Costa Rica, a 60-year-old pianist was banging on his old Joanna in the middle of Munich.

Outside the Town Hall, he was cranking out ditties to a motley crew of crazy Costa Ricans, drunken Germans, moustachioed, sombreroed and short Mexicans and two Welsh guys high as red kites on 2006 World Cup fever.

In a trice the ivory-tinkler lopped 34 years off our lives.

He was a doppelganger for the bearded hitmeister of Lieutenant Pigeon – a 1972 cult pop act who had a hit with Mouldy Old Dough.

Pop history note: It was one of the revelations of the junior schoolyard the night after we saw it on Top of the Pops in the days when there were only four channels on telly and all four weren’t worth watching.

We all growled along with its chorus and Mouldy Old Dough became a catchphrase for at least a week.
 
Our pop star lookalike had hoicked his piano out on to the main square at the dead of night. It hadn’t been there earlier in the day, it wasn’t there the following day.

If only the Lieutenant Pigeon tribute pianist he’d been on the bill at the opening ceremony as a substitute for the truly execrable bombastic Eurocock me and Teach witnessed from behind the goal at the opening match.

As the Ivory Coast’s official representatives me and Teach scooped a trip to Germany v Costa Rica courtesy of Hyundai.

20140611-130629-47189180.jpgPasha barmaid sports day’s best top[/caption]

The corporatisation of football has its drawbacks – as we found when every goal was accompanied by crashing stadium rock and soft drinks in the ground game in Coca Cola beakers. But it can have its merits.

As the writer of the Ivory Coast’s official World Cup slogan ‘Allez les Elephants! Gagnez la coupe du monde avec ‘le foot’ elegant’ (Yes, je parle Froggie), the South Korean car manufacturers forced us to go to the game. We didn’t want to, honest.

I wanted to stay home and do the grouting in the bathroom and wax my chest but we didn’t want to let the Ivory Coast down.

All that O-level French was worth every minute as voters from across the world voted my effort best of the three selected for a public vote on the FIFA World Cup website.

If you voted, many thanks. Believe me, I owe you.

Teach must remain nameless because he bunked off school to jet out, costing the Welsh taxpayer 500 quid in sickies.

I just hope none of his barbarian nine-year-olds stabbed each other while he was away.

He was the other official representative of the Ivory Coast as slogan writers jetted in from across the globe for the first game of the tournament.

We caused quite a stir with organisers once they realised that they didn’t have two Africans from Abidjan but two Taffies from Cardiff. The French winner (motto: ‘Liberte, Egalite, Jules Rimet’) was from Birmingham.

Fans from Ecuador, Costa Rica, Brazil, etc etc (though not Ivory Coast), we were all virtually dribbling with anticipation and in return for our slogan-writing ‘skills’ had tickets behind the goal for the first match in the creamy Munich Allianz Arena.

Yes, creamy! Up close, the stadium looks like a giant squidgy meringue, as if it would give a little if you poked the eggshell-like exterior sheathing it from the elements.

We took a Hyundai coach to the game, passing assorted miserable besuited FIFA delegates in their official coaches to the ground.

20140611-121756-44276699.jpgThe opening game of the World Cup and not a smile among four coaches of stuffed-shirt blazers going to the biggest match in football since the last World Cup final. What the hell were they on?

The first strange spectacle was watching Germans wave their flags and sing ‘Three Lions on a Shirt’ in English as the Football’s Coming Home chorus reverberated round the meringue.

You imagine English fans committing suicide before returning the compliment by singing a pro-German song. Funnily enough Frank Skinner had been walking round Munich earlier on, looking older and shorter than on the telly.

We would’ve gone up to him and asked him for a willy joke but he looked busy.

On the arena concourse TV crews the world over did what they do best. Whether they’re from Mexico, Croatia or Australia, they aim their staring lenses at the pretty women walking past.

Mexican TV even had a puppet as their on-the-ground reporter.

And then, there was the opening ceremony itself. Borderline Bavarian panto, borderline fantastical Hollywood theatricals.

Proof that Germans are funny? Who knows? Lederhosen looks stupid, period. So the massed slapping of thighs and soles of feet was ridiculous.

And the moment you wondered whether a giant sausage would invade the stadium was when it took your breath away and entered a different dimension.

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You'd stumbled into a Terry Gilliam world of colour and imagination. 24 women in vast medieval costumes were wheeled out on platforms and hoisted aloft to hang from wires stretched across the arena like a scene from the Adventures of Baron Munchhausen.

A dazzling spectacle, they watched, dangling, as Pele, Claudia Schiffer and assorted bigwigs spoke from the podium.

They also helped take your mind of the turgid Teutonic tripe which passed for a World Cup song.

20140611-120502-43502801.jpgLook hard. Shortly after giving me a wave, Claudia Schiffer shows off the World Cup[/caption]

Performed with an utter lack of passion by someone whose name you'd never want to know it's an absolute fucking minger of a melody.

The sort of song that makes Mouldy Old Dough look like Hey Jude. It was followed by Toni Braxton stinking the place out with another dose of aural sludge. If the worst band I've ever seen live, Scorpions, had turned up on the bill I think I would've walked out and given my ticket away.

Despite all that, the atmosphere was incredible – almost as if all the goodwill in the world somehow been wired into the stadium, it left you floating on an invisible wave of happiness.

20140611-121430-44070812.jpgTeach confessed he was close to tears of joy. He wasn’t the only one.

If Wales had been playing – and we've both long given up on thinking a World Cup qualification will happen in our lifetimes – there's no question we would have collapsed into appalling sentimentality. Is it possible to cry yourself to death?

The Costa Ricans added colour and Latin passion with their chants of 'Ticos, Ticos' – the nickname for the team.

The Germans throughout were made uncomfortable by their leaky defence and even chanted 'Wacht auf!' (Wake up!) at times during the match.

No more the arrogant, swaggering football colossuses of old. We salivated at the thought of Earnie and Bellamy being unleashed against Mertesacker and Metzelder who, let's not beat about the bush, are rubbish.

And though Germany won 4-2 they don't look scary from a Euro 2008 point of view.

The Swiss competition winner's dad (motto: '2006, it's Swiss O'Clock') kept up a running commentary on the match by saying it was the fourth World Cup he'd attended – as a 10-year-old he'd watched Uruguay in Zurich in 1954 – while nudging me in the ribs to make obscure points about Podolski's elbows.

Teach kept up a similar commentary about how it was the first time he'd ever been able to drink a beer in his seat while watching football. Apparently, this was important.

Post-match, it was time to scavenge – for the flags to take home as souvenirs. You know, the ones you wave around when the crowd, before kick-off, become part of the pageant and provide the spectacle.

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A local took great delight in shouting after: 'A-ha, you have missed ze orange flags!' as though it was a social clanger.

Ten minutes later a second German said exactly the same thing. Achtung – we got the other four – red, black, yellow and blue. Lovely!

So much scavenging had its price though. Hyundai left the stadium without us on the coach forcing us to mix with the riff-raff on the tube into town.

We caught up with the rest of our party three hours later as wild-eyed Miss Argentina (motto: 'Get up! Argentina are on the move'), and her man who'd already had a free trip worth thousands from South America, tried to bully the Hyundai reps into giving them free tickets for Argies v Serbia the following day.

She'd earlier stalked Hyundai's chief executive through the Holiday Inn, gatecrashing an event in a bid to have her picture taken with him – a social no-no that miffed the South Koreans no end.

After that, it was time to soak up the wonders of Munich and do our bit to promote the Ivory Coast as a tourist destination.

It’s somewhere near the Equator, you know. You should go there.

As well as Lieutenant Pigeon, there were string quartets playing in shop doorways, fantastic jazz bands, open air salsa dancing in 17th century park temples, Brazilian bongo players in nightclubs (he let Teach have a go).

The Fan Fest at the Olympic stadium had the best joke of all – on one of the hills, a 40% gradient, they'd marked out a lop-sided football pitch complete with goalposts.

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Thank God the 2006 World Cup vote was won by Germany and not England. German cities are big, elegant and friendly.

Before the trip I speculated whether the World Cup was bigger than the Olympics. Now the answer is obvious. If you get the chance to visit one, don't wait for Wales to get there, just do it.

This piece was written in 2006 and originally featured on the Bobbing Along Cardiff City website.

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