Pints, patriotism and a Gallic shrug

Outside Paris’s Frog and Rosbif English pub on Sunday morning, hoarse men and women in rugby shirts were still downing pints of beer with their bacon breakfasts and trying to come to terms with one of the more improbable results in English rugby history.

But after a night spent waving St George flags around the streets of Paris, England supporters were equally baffled by the philosophical shrug of French fans to their team’s defeat on Saturday night. Even Parisians wearing fake beards in honour of “the cave man”, Sebastién Chabal, had gracefully said congratulations. This would never happen in England, marvelled a group of rugby players from Yorkshire.
If the French had trashed England in Blighty, a wave of Francophobia would have been unleashed. “The French fans were so nice and so graceful in defeat that I actually felt bad about winning,” said Suzanne Snaith, a former women’s rugby union player from Hull.

But suddenly, this mellow vibe of European brotherhood was blasted into submission as the chords of Rule Britannia rang out across the cobbled streets. Puzzled Parisians flung open their balcony windows and England fans craned their necks to witness the Sun‘s open-top red bus doing a lap of honour broadcasting patriotic tunes from a huge speaker system. After Land of Hope and Glory, a man with an impossibly large beer belly got off the bus to help direct it into a parking spot.

“Oh my God, I’m ashamed to be English,” muttered a company director from Newcastle. But within seconds, he had boarded the bus with a crowd of friends and was patriotically dancing to the beat, pint in hand.

The bus, the piles of free broadsheet newspapers and the various beer offers aimed at England fans were a reminder of the marketing and cash potential of next Saturday’s rugby world cup final against South Africa. Conversation over the early morning pints revolved around money: How much fans had already spent, and how they could afford a ticket to next Saturday’s game.

By lunchtime, websites were reportedly offering a pair of tickets worth £500 (R6 854) for £9 999 (R137 176) with flights thrown in. Ebay had two tickets worth £545 (R7 468) going for nearly £4 000 (R54 861), more than six times their face value. But those who had been at Saturday night’s semifinal said they had seen plenty of tickets for sale outside the stadium at face value. With more than 40 000 English fans wanting to cross the Channel for the final, many said the real problem was getting to Paris and finding a hotel room.

One married City trader had optimistically thought he would find a cheap place to stay “by talking to a French woman and getting invited back to her place”. But after the weekend in Paris, he had observed that French women were “not easy, in fact they’re impossible”.

Northerners had found the best travel deals, flying from Newcastle or Manchester for half the price of last-minute Eurostar trains or London flights.

“Never mind the Falklands,” said ex-rugby union player Colin Smith. He and eight friends from Newcastle had invested in Argentina shirts for Sunday night’s Springboks-Pumas match which resulted in victory for South Africa by 37 points to Argentina’s 13. Having already spent more than £1 000 each on the semifinals, they would now pay £1 250 each for a travel company’s package including final ticket and hotel, but excluding flights. “We’ve taken all our savings out of Northern Rock,” said one.

Many England fans were going home with warnings about another threat to their budgets: Paris taxis. One couple had been charged â,¬66 and driven around Paris for sport on Saturday night. Another concern was finding a decent anthem. “England needs to get some songs,” said a London web entrepreneur. “The French drowned us out and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot is starting to get a bit dull.”

“Well done the English, but I do feel sad,” sighed French human resources director Aurelien Lavielle . He had been kept awake all night “by English fans having a party in the street”, but still thought a roaming red-top bus playing God Save the Queen was “quite sweet”.

The French papers were not so forgiving. “Le Non de la Rose” said L’Equipe‘s front page. French rugby writers immediately rounded on the coach, Bernard Laporte, soon to start work as President Nicolas Sarkozy’s junior sports minister.

Le Journal du Dimanche summed it up: “France came up against the world champions like a bull wearing blinkers, running into a solid white wall.”

Viewing record

The final moments of England’s win were watched by more viewers then any other sporting event this year, according to viewing figures released on Sunday. More than 12-million fans tuned in to Saturday’s victory during its last crucial five minutes as England secured a momentous 14-9 win—51% of the television audience. ITV1 said the figure was higher than other peak audience figures for events such as the FA Cup final, which attracted 11,5-million viewers. - Guardian Unlimited Â

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