This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 25/07/2018.
How Croydon won the World Cup
The sun was beating down through the clear plastic roof and burning my face. I was sweating lager from every pore. I was drenched in beer. My eyes were fixed on the giant screen and I daren’t blink. The tension was off the scale.
And then it happened. Harry Maguire sent a towering, bullet header past the Swedish ‘keeper. As the net bulged, there was an explosion of sound. Everyone flew into the air, arms flailing, beer flying, roaring, screaming, laughing at the sheer madness of it all. We struggled to stay on our feet as the force of the crowd carried us about twenty feet to the right and then back again. All the while beer showered us from above, the drops of liquid raining down and looking like glitter in the sunlight.
The guy in front of me turned around and we looked at each other and smiled. Then we hugged, hard and long. I don’t know if we said anything but in those few seconds it was as if we were saying: “This is insane! This is England! This is Croydon!”.
We didn’t care. Football was coming home
And what happened next? We only went and scored again. Amid the mayhem, I spotted someone’s shorts being passed around the crowd. Then a guy tried to crowdsurf and fell to the floor with a thud. I think he got up. We didn’t care. Football was coming home.
As those brilliant, crazy scenes of Croydon fans completely losing it were broadcast around the globe, Boxpark Croydon became the best place in the world to watch England’s football team – apart from being in the actual stadium. People worldwide marvelled at our passion.
Anyone who doesn’t get those red-and-white, beer-flying scenes doesn’t get football. They certainly don’t get England, or a big sector of Croydon, and the sheer joy of seeing our national team do the business, match after match, following years of trauma and let down.
Some people tried to spoil the party
As usual when our town hits the national press, some people tried to spoil the party, questioning the outpouring of pro-England sentiment as if we should be ashamed to fly the flag. In one of the more cringeworthy articles, a Guardian columnist suggested die-hard England fans were Brexiteers who ought not to like the multi-racial makeup of the English team. Sensing the mood of the country was changing, another Guardian-ista said the England fans were demonstrating ‘good patriotism’ rather than ‘bad patriotism’. Yeah, right.
The euphoria and pride in watching England at Boxpark wasn’t anything to do with an underlying rise in patriotism or nationalism. Nor was it anything to do with Brexit. It was purely about passionate football fans loving the moment and getting behind the national team after years of failure. And the more we saw of the players and manager, the more likeable they seemed to be, and the more we wanted to show our support.
Of course, Boxpark itself played a massive part in making the matches so intense, with its massive screen, great sound system, cracking DJ (DJ Spoony) and theatre-like space. But what really made it so special were the Croydon fans. The majority were local people and real football fans. In a stroke of genius, Boxpark emailed those who had attended the first matches to give them priority in buying tickets for the next ones. This kept it more local. And those fantastic few days, when the England football team put a smile on our faces and Croydon became a worldwide sensation, will live long in the memory.