Fans enjoy raucous night in Doha ahead of World Cup ‘Battle of Britain’
The city’s Red Lion pub has become a popular haunt for supporters of both home nations.
England and Wales fans enjoyed a raucous night in Doha ahead of the crunch game that will decide their World Cup futures, with beer flowing and songs sounding throughout.
The city’s Red Lion pub has become a popular haunt for supporters of both home nations, and the tens of thousands of international fans who have travelled across continents for football’s biggest tournament.
England and Wales meet at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium for their final group B fixture, dubbed the “Battle of Britain”, with hoards of supporters having made the trip and millions more watching back home.
The Three Lions currently top the group and need just a point to guarantee their progress to the knockout stages, while Wales must win and hope for a favourable result between Iran and the USA.
If old rivalries are expected to be displayed on the pitch, the tension was not reflected among the bar’s patrons as laughing, music and popular chants from the characteristically vocal Wales fans rang out.
But despite the jovial atmosphere, the gravity of the impending match was not forgotten – particularly among the Welsh contingent.
Among the numbers on the heaving floor was new arrival Steven Williams, from Rhydyfelin in Pontypridd, South Wales, who had booked a ticket after seeing Wales’ poor performance in the last two games.
“A lot of people put us down after the last game but I thought I have to go out there – I’m here flying the flag for the Welsh,” the 47-year-old said.
“I’d like to come out with a win tomorrow, but that almost doesn’t matter as much as the statement we’re making here in Qatar.
“We’ve waited 64 years for this and we’re here in the bars, the restaurants, in the Souq and everywhere in between making our presence known.”
For others, including Lee Holloway, 43, from Pontypridd, the result matters more.
He said: “I just want us to go home with pride, but right now we can’t do that.
“I think when we play against out old enemies we turn up.
“But it’s going to be a tough game, there’s no doubt about that. If the boys turn up we might get a 1-0, but that might not be enough.”
Isaac Thomas, a 23-year-old teacher from Swansea, has travelled alone to Qatar – not wanting to miss the moment to see Wales in a World Cup – and said he had so far had a “brilliant experience”.
“It’s a beautiful place and I’ve met so many friendly people, it’s nothing like it was portrayed in the media,” Mr Thomas said.
“The only disappointing thing has been the football.”
“That and the price of a pint – but that hasn’t stopped us,” he joked.
“But the players just haven’t shown up yet. So I hope and pray for a win tomorrow and a draw in the Iran v USA game.”
Thomas Elward, 55, from Gilfach Goch, revealed he had been journeying to Wales away matches since he was 13 years old, and said he was “confident” Wales would defeat England.
“I’m confident we’re going to win, but it doesn’t matter if we lose because we support Wales, that makes us winners,” he said.
The English fans dotted throughout the place seemed more calm, and appeared to be looking ahead beyond the group stages – confident they would qualify.
William Threlfall, 56, who lives in Cambridge and has been following England home and away for 30 years, described his experience in Qatar as “amazing” and predicted a 2-0 England win.
He added: “Tournament football starts when you are through the group games, we will criticise Gareth Southgate then (if needed).”
His friend Chris Finch, 50, from Nottinghamshire, added: “We’re never going to win anything being risk averse.”
Mr Finch believes England boss Southgate has adopted the “safe option”, noting: “It will work until we play someone good in the quarters and we will be off home.”
Brothers Simon and John Hatter, from Nottingham, said they had arrived in Qatar ahead of the Wales game and planned to stay for as long as England remain in the tournament.
Simon, 52, and John, 57, hope to see Jack Grealish start – with the pair having a soft spot for the Manchester City attacker due to a loan spell at their team Notts County earlier in his career.
Simon said: “I think England will win against Wales, get through the group and last 16, and it will be harder in the quarter finals – France look good.”
He added on Tuesday’s game: “I reckon 3-1 England.”
Sports minister Stuart Andrew has said he will wear the rainbow-coloured armband prohibited by Fifa when he attends the game.
The Conservative frontbencher, who is gay, said it was “really unfair” that football’s governing body prevented the captains of England and Wales donning the OneLove anti-discrimination armband at the 11th hour.
Wales also announced that winger Dan James had gifted tickets to volunteers at their World Cup training base for the game.
Elsewhere, Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the UK’s football policing lead, told PA news agency that there had been no arrests or incidents in the opening nine days of the tournament and praised England and Wales fans for their “exemplary” behaviour.
He said the lack of trouble at the Qatar World Cup, which he believed was in large part due to alcohol being less available, was a sign that ministers should resist calls to ease restrictions on drinking in UK football grounds.
It comes as police in Tenerife say they will launch a major security operation to prevent any possible violence during the England and Wales game.
Video footage emerged of a brawl outside bars on the largest of Spain’s Canary Islands on Friday evening, with people wearing England and Wales shirts involved.
UK police fear people prevented from travelling to Qatar for the World Cup may have been involved in the incident in Tenerife, but added they have yet to confirm this.