‘Absolutely awful’: England fans in Frankfurt react to Denmark draw

<span>A full-throttle contest was expected at the Frankfurt Arena but <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a>’s supporters had to settle for a disappointing 1-1 draw.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>

England remain on course to qualify for the knockout stages of Euro 2024 by topping Group C, but you could be forgiven for imagining they were going home already after a lethargic error-strewn 1-1 draw with Denmark left fans segueing from jeers to boos as the final whistle was blown.

After a day of raucous but law-abiding behaviour in the centre of Frankfurt, an estimated 20,000 Three Lions fans made the journey to the Frankfurt Arena, but judging by their mood afterwards a fair number regretted their decision. “Crap”, “dreadful”, “awful” and “same old, same old” were some of the printable responses.

England took an early lead through Harry Kane, with the England captain tucking away a deflected cross from Kyle Walker. They started to struggle immediately after, however, and a 30-yard rocket from Morten Hjulmand levelled matters just after the half hour. The second half was a meandering mishmash.

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“It was absolutely awful,” said Ben Evans, who had travelled from Devon for the match. “They were trying to play safe football but it ended up being risky. It was agony, but then I think they wanted a point and they got it. And maybe if I hadn’t paid 100 euros for a ticket I might feel differently about it.”

Ben from Tunbridge Wells did not dissent from the common view but identified another factor in England’s poor show. “It was dry,” he said. “But to be honest the Danish fans outdid us. They were organised, all coming in the same colours, creating that wall of red in the ground. I don’t know when they practised their chants but everyone knew every word and it affected the game on the field. I’m an Arsenal fan and Declan Rice is always an eight out of 10 but he looked rattled tonight.”

The Danes had arrived at the stadium having completed an organised march through the centre of Frankfurt to the main train station. They had new chants slamming the English (to the tune of Yellow Submarine: “England, England, it’s never coming home”). They all wore red. It felt as if they saw this as a derby match. For England fans, meanwhile, there was more of an emphasis on partying, perhaps in anticipation of not entirely enjoying themselves at the match.

To a backdrop of picturesque half-timber houses and the Old St Nicholas Church, fans had descended on the central Römerberg square to chug crates of beer, boot oversized tennis balls in the air and sings songs that baited not the Danes, but the Germans. Around them, tourists and locals wended their way through the crowd, taking photos and collecting discarded bottles for returns.

While it was rowdy, this situation was not dangerous, a reflection on the continued good behaviour of England fans and a different approach by police from that experienced last weekend in Gelsenkirchen when England played Serbia. While various young men stripped themselves to the waist and indulged in the highlight of the afternoon, a bellyflop contest into the square’s Fountain of Justice, Frankfurt police maintained a discreet distance. One van was visible from the square, a half dozen more tucked around the corner. One block further out there was a cordon. This was sensible, sensitive policing, even to the details; while there were riot police on every corner, none were wearing their helmets.

A polite announcement from a loudspeaker on top of a van encouraged fans to make their move to the Frankfurt Arena three hours before kick-off, a request which wasn’t promptly followed by most. Meanwhile the Danes were marching through Frankfurt’s financial centre testing out their new chants.

The Danish parade eventually became that wall of red along the north side of the Frankfurt Arena. On the south side a less visually striking but equally voluble mixture of red and white in the England end. There was a sense of two countries with a shared football culture. Several of the Danish side have played or are playing in the Premier League and Danish fans regularly make the trip over as spectators.

Both sides were equally cheered and jeered on to the pitch; both national anthems were (just about) respected and sung volubly. A full-throttle contest was expected. That was not the way it turned out, with England looking disjointed before they scored their opening goal through their captain, and even more so afterwards.

The Danes, whose fans had begun to whistle in frustration at their team’s inability to cut through, were soon roaring in jubilation as Hjulmand scored. As England looked increasingly shell-shocked, Danish fans indulged in the full range of mocking chants, pinched from English grounds. “You only sing when you’re winning” and “Champions of Europe, you’ll never sing that”, they sang. At the end, they were also the ones cheering.