Hear how a love of Gazza led Viren Walia to the England Supporters Travel Club

In the latest edition of 'What England Means' powered by BT, England Supporters Travel Club member Viren Walia explains how Paul Gascogine made him fall in love with England.

Sunday 10 May 2020
Viren Walia first found a love of football during the 1990 World Cup in Italy

I guess most people naturally get into football through their family, but for the first eight years of my life I didn’t really engage with it.

My dad wasn’t a huge fan. But then Italia ‘90 came around and everything changed.

My dad got really excited by the tournament and I knew it was important because I was able to stay up past my usual bedtime to watch games.

Everyone remembers the semi-final heartache against West Germany, but England’s 3-2 quarter final win over Cameroon really stood out for me. The game went to extra-time, which was thrilling for a young kid, and Paul Gascoigne was magnificent.

After that, I began playing football. I wanted to be a creative midfielder just like Gazza. I played for Ascot United and my school team.

Suddenly I was quite a big football fan. My cousins all supported Liverpool, so they also became my team. I still get to as many games as I can, especially the away ones down south.

Taking in a game on a trip to Barcelona

The nineties were a brilliant decade to be an England fan. Euro ‘96 was special. I remember watching all the games with my best friend from school.

England’s 4-1 victory over Holland was incredible. Gazza was also in that squad, along with Alan Shearer, Paul Ince and current England manager Gareth Southgate. It was a team brimming with talent and personality.

I knew I could never emulate these idols, but I did actually play for England once...

Back in 2012, while living in New York, I was part of an 'unofficial' England side full of expats to enter an amateur World Cup tournament in Manhattan.

We got through our group, which had Brazil, Italy and Scotland in it, but were eventually knocked out by Portugal. I didn’t play the following year, because I moved back to Windsor, but the team went on to win the whole thing!

What I loved about playing in that tournament, and more generally about supporting England, is regardless of club loyalties, background, religion or culture we were just one team united by our love for football.

That’s partly why I signed up to the England Supporters Travel Club (ESTC). It felt like a fun and safe space to enjoy international football with like-minded people.

Naturally, there are rivalries between different fans and clubs, but when England play they tend to disappear. Arsenal fans suddenly see the value of Harry Kane in an England shirt and Manchester United supporters cheer on Trent Alexander-Arnold. These often irrational divisions are gone for 90 minutes.

My first taste of watching England in person was at EURO 2016 in France. I saw the 0-0 draw with Slovakia in Saint-Etienne. It was a key point that ensured we progressed to the knockout stage.

With our 'England' team in New York

I guess when I joined the ESTC a part of me feared I might not fit in. My parents are both from Kenya, but of Indian descent. We have Hindu and Sikh blood from each side of the family, and although born in London, I wasn’t sure I would be accepted. But I was, and instantly.

I just love being part of a group of travelling fans and it is pretty tough now that football has stopped. I didn’t realise how much I would miss it, but I am definitely craving games.

It is also a shame UEFA EURO 2020 has been postponed by a year, especially with it being an anniversary tournament. I had tickets to one of the semi-finals at Wembley Stadium and still intend to go next summer. I think England stand a great chance of winning the whole thing.

Fittingly, I have been spending lockdown watching as much old sport as I can, including Jane Preston’s 2015 documentary on Gascoigne. It was fun to remind myself of his backstory and humour. I also used YouTube to find some clips from his days with Lazio in Italy.

Gazza got me into football and now he’s still entertaining me during lockdown, which I think is pretty poetic!


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By FA Staff