Turning up six hours before kick off is something usually reserved for club staff, tourists and middle aged mothers who ‘want a little extra time to get there, just in case’. Despite being none of the above, that is exactly what I did last Thursday, as I stepped off the underground to face Wembley at 2pm for the England against San Marino game. I did this to attend a pre match event, hosted just over the road from Wembley at Carlsberg’s The Eternal Optimist pub, hosted by Soccer Saturday’s Jeff Stelling and featuring a host of former professionals, including Ian Wright, Matthew Le Tissier, and Chris Waddle as well as comedian Paddy McGuinness.
The day had a host of activities for the various competition winners and people lucky enough to be given tickets such as myself. A pre-match panel discussed England’s national side and the game in the evening, with questions posed from people selected by a prowling Geoff Shreeves who made his way around the room. Either side of this were DJ sets as the fans and guests could talk with the legends and enjoy a quality pub experience, packed with bar games, pool, table football and a number of FIFA 15 loaded Xbox Ones scattered across the premise. All backed by unlimited complementary beer, TV sets playing highlights of the England national side and overflowing platters of snacks, there was never really a dull moment. I couldn’t get enough, I drank too much, ate my weight in onion bhajis and talked with fans and players about everything from 3G pitches in non-league football to Scottish Independence to why my accumulator for the day was a terrible bet (it won though, didn’t it, Chris Waddle?). High end suits met with men clad in England shirts and memorabilia to form a melting pot of English fandom as various competition winners arrived from all walks of life – their common joy uniting them. Capped off by a set from The Lightning Seeds, most known for their hit single Three Lions (which was belted out from everyone in the room), it was hard to leave the building to head towards the game without feeling mightily patriotic.
The game itself was a foregone conclusion. England put five past San Marino after a slow start, but buoyed by the atmosphere, much created by those at the Carlsberg promo event, the game was a great experience. Despite only selling 55,000 tickets (Wembley seats 90,000), the bottom tier was close to full so the atmosphere was jovial and entertaining. Even Wembley’s terrible excuse for chips in curry sauce couldn’t dampen my spirits. After the game drinks were had once more at The Eternal Optimist as everyone else bustled towards the train home and we headed up to the balcony to overlook the national stadium and take photos in the cold London air.
In a way, the night ended on a melancholic note. As I left, I mentioned in passing to my girlfriend that ‘that is how all matches should be watched’, before instantly realising that this wasn’t going to be the case. I feel I should complain to Carlsberg, because the next few games I attend will pale in comparison to the experience that surrounded the England against San Marino game.
Ian Wright, Paddy McGuinness, Jeff Stelling and the Carlsberg Fan Squad put on the Ultimate England Experience for 1,000 fans at Wembley. The Carlsberg Fan Squad aims to make football BETTER for fans by listening to real fans, celebrating what is great about football and improving the experience of being a fan. Follow @CarlsbergUK for weekly Premier League ticket giveaways. That calls for a Carlsberg!
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