DOHA, Qatar — England fans have been among the most visible supporters at any World Cup, and it’s no different in Qatar.
Despite concerns surrounding having the world’s biggest tournament in a conservative Muslim country where public drunkenness is illegal, homosexuality is an offense punishable by prison, and women’s rights are severely limited, England’s diehard fans have still shown up in droves to cheer on their star-studded squad. English supporters that spoke with this reporter felt their travel and the inconveniences endured were worth the chance to witness England become World Cup champions.
“We’re going to win the World Cup,” multiple England fans said. Supporters were making an adventure of negotiating the first-ever World Cup in the Middle East, especially having to deal with the restrictions on traditional festivities.
Take where and how to “have a pint,” for example. The Red Lion Doha, tucked away inside a hotel with live music, reliable crowds, and the intended aesthetic of English pubs, has quickly become a favorite. Hotel bars with state approval tend to have expensive menus, and long lines or reservations necessary to enter.
When it comes to conditions in Qatar, fans like Matt, who preferred to only provide his first name, but noted he hails from Nottingham, reflected on what’s been unique about Qatar, in this his sixth World Cup.
“There’s not a lack of bars as such, but they aren’t exactly plentiful either,” said Matt. “It’s slightly strange walking into restaurants and not being able to order an alcoholic drink — not that this is a major issue — it’s just something we’re used to being able to do back home.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever been to the Middle East, so [it’s just about] having to get used to obvious cultural differences and making sure we’re respectful to Qatar’s rules and traditions.”
Another thing that’s made the experience a distinct one is the size of the host country. This has presented logistical issues for FIFA, as Qatar had to account for fans arriving in greater quantities than the total number of Qatari citizens. It’s also created an atmosphere like no other, given that fans from every participating nation are all in the city of Doha.
To make space for attending fans, Qatar has sprung up a wide variety of accommodation options, including fan village cabins that have come under criticism, and accommodation on cruise ships. Another England fan, now attending his eighth World Cup, mentioned staying on a cruise ship was expensive, yet excellent.
Rules have been strict. A few visitors have had items confiscated in order to enter stadiums. These ranged from a lighter to some pieces of crusader costumes worn by the fans dressed as English knights, which has been a tradition for some supporters since before the tournament.
Still, the feeling among most of the Three Lions’ supporters is upbeat. Matt noted, “[The mood is] very positive, about both the country and our chances. I think we’ve all been pleasantly surprised with Qatar.”
England’s fans are no strangers to negative press. Their own reputation precedes them — fair or not.
Other fans will certainly tell you it’s true, though. From table to table at the Red Lion, travelers supporting England, Wales, Australia, Croatia, Mexico and Brazil were all present.
Informed that this piece was centered around England’s fans, one woman jokingly instructed, “Make sure you write how rude they are.”
Wrapped up in the quips and cliches about England’s fans is an undeniable degree of respect. Each English supporter steadfastly predicted their team’s victory. England’s reputation of loyal support is formidable — a testament to a proud culture in a storied sport, known the world over.
There’s certainly a lot of confidence in England’s chances this year. For a team crowded with marquee talent, one that has the momentum of having made the semifinals in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which lost in the 2020 European Championship final, and is one of the favorites of many bettors to win in Doha, it’s a hope that is warranted.
“I go into these tournaments with lots of hope, but no expectation,” Matt stated. “However, it’s the hope that kills you … look no further than the 2018 [World Cup] semifinal and last year’s European Championship Final.”
The 6-2 drubbing of Iran in England’s opening match of this year’s World Cup was quite a splashy way to launch its new campaign, and England fans here in Qatar are riding that high. But before the knockouts, England faces the United States on Friday and then neighboring Wales on Nov. 29.
The United States will be the underdog, as a talented but remarkably young team faces their more accomplished counterparts on the other side. In the stands, U.S. fans who have also traveled to Doha in impressive numbers will be in a cheering contest with some of the most vocal fans in the game.
England’s supporters are famous for their witty songs, which they sing with impressive volume throughout the match. One that’s made particular noise in Doha, for this tournament in the holiday season, is a rendition of Jingle Bells:
“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way. Oh, what fun it is to see England win away!”
When it came to America’s songs, English fans were quick to critique them. “You need more songs,” one man said, elaborating, “you only chant, USA!”
Regardless of many predictions touting a lopsided English victory, the England versus United States match in Qatar will be one for the history books. Despite the confidence conveyed by the English fans, there’s a degree of awareness that truly anything could happen.