Denmark v Tunisia, Monday 22nd November 2022, 4pm

It’s World Cup time again. Paul and I have attended all of them since Germany 2006 and the switch to a tournament taking place in the northern hemisphere winter wasn’t going to stop us. Nor was the choice of Qatar as the venue. I recognize that Qatar hasn’t moved as quickly as some other countries in respect of human rights, but the UK is hardly leading the world on those issues these days. The Tory review of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the proposed removal of our existing rights isn’t something that reflects well on the UK. If I boycotted every country that had laws or attitudes that I disapprove of then I’d be stateless. And I’d never visit some of my relatives.

On that basis, I’ve no regrets about travelling and don’t consider that my presence endorses any particular Qatari viewpoint in the same way that continuing to live in England should in no way be taken as my tacit approval of anything that the incompetent and corrupt chancers running my country get up to.

Paul took responsibility for sorting out somewhere to stay and he booked us onto the cruise ship that also accommodated the Wags. I wouldn’t recognize any of them these days so I’ve no idea if we ended up drinking in the same locations. The ship had a few big screens showing the football and we watched most of the matches from a deck high up with a very nice view of the Doha skyline. As you might expect on a cruise ship, there was a fine selection of drinks.

It was easy enough to get the Education City Stadium for our first match. The journey began with a forty-minute bus ride from outside of the boat terminal. There were always sufficient buses and we didn’t have to queue. The shuttle wound around the various ships before dropping us at the Al Ghanian bus station.

It was a short walk to the metro station and then just the one change of line to get to the ground. The metro was fairly noisy, with a lot more Tunisians that Danes. Apparently, a lot of Tunisians work in Qatar.

Something that surprised me was that many women on the metro were wearing short skirts and low-cut tops. I wasn’t expecting burkas, but neither had I anticipated a dress code of ‘Friday Night Out in Newcastle’. It was a fair walk from the subway to the stadium. We passed a few campus pitches where I’d have liked to have seen a game going on.

Once at the ground we had to activate our tickets on our phones. I’m not really sure what purpose that served as usually a bar or QR code is sufficient. We also had to show our digital Hayya cards, which again seemed overkill, but as they had our photos on them it made informal transfers of tickets by lending someone your phone that little bit harder.

The searches and scans were thorough, but I did notice that people were able to bring bags in with them. At a lot of games I’ve been to you are limited to something about A5 size, but many of these were a lot larger. I remember Paul getting turned away at the Euros in France a few years ago for having one of those small shoe-type bags with a draw string.

Once we were in, it was easy enough to find our upper tier seats. We were given free flags to wave, but on the basis that I didn’t care which team won I kept them rolled up and then later gave them to a couple of small kids on the metro who somehow had managed to lose their flags and had been left with just the sticks.

There was no opportunity for a beer in the stadium, although that’s how it generally works at the Euros, so I didn’t see it being adopted for a World Cup as such a big deal as the media were making out. I had a couple of non-alcoholic Buds, which didn’t taste too different from their regular product.

The game was supposed to be sold out but there were a few empty seats in most areas. Whilst each side had what looked like a dedicated area where tickets were presumably sold by the respective football associations, there were lots of fans of the teams spread around the ground.

The Tunisians, as they had on the metro, outnumbered and out sang their Danish counterparts. Many of them wouldn’t sit down and it took a lot of effort from the very polite stewards to keep order. We switched seats so that we wouldn’t have our view limited to the back of a Tunisian supporting woman who flatly refused to use her seat.

The game ended goalless and we headed for the metro. We were directed away to a tram that took us one stop away from the ground. Unfortunately, it was one stop along the line where the carriages were already full of fans and it was a tight squeeze to get on. There were some Saudi supporters at the stations, clearly delighted with their win over Argentina and we were treated to the chants of ‘Messi, Ciao’ that we’d heard at the previous World Cup. Things change, things stay the same.

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