For South Africa in 2010 see Chelsea in 1986

Yesterday the Foreign Office issued advice to England fans planning to attend the World Cup. Fair enough, you might think, because the crime levels and struggles to deal with the legacy of apartheid mean South Africa has something of an image problem in the Western media. Fans should have the general facts and know what to do if anything goes wrong. This is standard practice.

The point, according to this BBC report, is that South Africa in 2010 can’t compare with Germany in 2006. Fans can’t expect to pitch tents in fields or sleep rough the night before games. It’s too cold for a start, and criminals will be on the look out for anyone who leaves themselves unprotected. Above all else, fans should avoid standing out. Nowhere does it say “drunken naked cavorting along the streets of Durban after England’s games is not a good idea”, but you somehow feel this should be pointed out.

Funnily enough, remembering my own experience of travelling to away games in unfamiliar territory means I see some parallels between the advice and what I had to do to avoid a kicking in the eighties. Just as the FCO website has a list of top tips – look out for fake tickets, book accommodation well in advance, check the local rules of the road, etc – anyone following their team in London during the eighties came equipped with a similar list:

Don’t wear colours – no tops, scarves, badges or flags.

Don’t make eye contact on the Tube.

Have a working knowledge of the London transport network, including buses and overground trains.

Never ask a local for directions to the ground.

Don’t complain about the piss-poor quality of Southern Bitter.

Never assume Londoners are all morose bastards who don’t talk to each other. One might surprise you with a casual question much as Gordon Jackson found out while taking part in the Great Escape. Be on your guard.

Assume all coppers hate you because you are stopping them from doing something else, like beating up the locals.

Don’t get drunk and run down the streets around the Chelsea, West Ham, Arsenal or Millwall grounds singing about your great team. They don’t care and will demonstrate their indifference by remorselessly hunting you down.

In summary, don’t act like an idiot and you’ll be OK. For South Africa in 2010 see Chelsea in 1986.

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