How can the majority of England fans drag the cameramen and reporters away from focussing on a violent minority? Tonight from 7pm at The Offside Bar, 271 City Road, London EC1, over a hundred fans who will be travelling to Germany will be meeting the media to seek support for their campaign for good news stories this June. They will be expressing their concern at the constant anti-German angle to much of the pre tournament build up and anger at how gossip and tittle tattle is used to undermine the team. A deputation from Nuremburg will open the forum with a presentation on the friendly reception the supporters can expect in their city.
Organiser Mark Perryman of LondonEnglandFans, and also the author of a forthcoming book about following England's football team, spoke to Londonist ahead of tonight's meeting.
Tell us a bit about LondonEnglandFans…
We’ve been meeting since Euro 2000. It’s an independent group of fans with basically two very simple aims. One is a better deal for England fans, making sure that we get fair allocations of tickets, that we are fairly policed home and abroad and that we get proper coverage in the media. We have a good relationship with the FA. The vast majority of fans aren’t hooligans, which connects to the second very simple aim which is to improve the image of England fans. We can have all sorts of arguments about whether we deserve the negative image that we have, but the fact is, certainly dating back over 15 or 20 years, that we have a negative image home and abroad and we’re doing our very best to turn that into a positive and a much more accurate image. We organise around what is the defining characteristic of England fans which is that our games take place in other countries, so the focus is very much about travel, enjoying the countries which we’re going to play in, to find out about their culture, the beers to try, the different foods to sample, sites to see and also a bit about the football in those countries as well. We have a website which is www.londonenglandfans.co.uk.
What’s happening at your Meet the Media event tonight?
We meet every month. We have a fans’ forum where tonight, for instance, we’ve got the deputy mayor and Chief of Police from Nuremburg and we’ve got journalists from the Mirror, the Sun, the Observer and others to talk about what kind of media coverage will be created for this World Cup.
Are you going to any of the games yourself this summer?
Yeah. We have what I consider quite a democratic system for distributing tickets in England. Each time I go to a qualifier I acquire a point, a cap, in the same way as the players get caps. The more games you go to the nearer the front of the queue you end up. It’s over a four year period, the previous qualifying campaign and the current one. I’ve only missed two games so I’m just about at the front of the queue.
Has it been easy sorting out the travel and the accommodation?
Yeah, again that’s one of the functions, one of the joys of the group. We had the German tourist board along in February. We had Kevin Miles from the Football Supporters Federation who’s been over there on fact-finding tours and we had Stuart Fuller who’s written a very good book, “Fuller’s Fans’ Guide to German Stadiums”. The German tourist board, as you might suspect, are very efficient. There’s all sorts of websites where we can find out about accommodation. It’s obviously a relatively easy place to get to, so a lot of people I guess won’t stay over there for the whole period. I’m lucky enough that I’m going to go there for the whole time.
Tell us a bit about your new book…
It’s called “Ingerland: Travels with a football nation”. It’s out on the second of May. It’s very much the story of the fans. Over 100 fans were interviewed. Also, there are in depth chapters on policing, how we’re covered by the media and relations with other fans. It’s a first real attempt to explain what it means to be an England fan. I’m a great reader of football books, but there’s virtually no books about what it means to be an England fan which I found rather strange. The only books you can buy are about what it means to be an English hooligan, which tells us a lot really. There’s some great stories in there from Italia '90, Sweden '92 and more recent tournaments. England fans have changed a lot and I thought it was about time that we told our tale.
What’s your favourite football memory of London?
Jurgen Klinsmann’s debut at Spurs. Best football player I’ve ever seen in the flesh.
What’s your favourite restaurant in London?
Mangal, in Dalston, a really nice Turkish restaurant, which if you go there on a Friday night you always see the two artists, Gilbert and George.
Favourite music venue?
The Forum in Camden.
Favourite London landmark?
The Routemaster bus. It should never have been abandoned. Absolutely extraordinary decision by the mayor.
What would you do if you were Mayor of London?
Ban cars from central London. Make cycles the king. I’ll be taking my bike to the World Cup. Every city I’ve taken my bicycle to following England has got better facilities for cyclists.
Greatest thing ever to come out of London?
Photo of England fans in Prague during the 2002 World Cup via aisipos's Flickr stream.