Further into town, we skirted around the old port after being warned by other fans that robberies were common in the area. On match day, if you could, these were the kinds of places to avoid. England's reputation had arrived before us. The English and hooliganism, they're inseparable aren't they?
On that sunny day in Marseilles, when England secured the first victory of their World Cup campaign, me and Anne like most of the 25.000 or so England supporters in the city didn't see the trouble because we didn't venture into the parts of town where it was most likely to take place. At the two sites we'd identified as the most likely trouble spots, the scenes after the match were of bars smashed up, bloodied heads, women and children dashing to get out of the way of the hail of missiles being thrown by one side at the other.
The next morning, reading the papers and watching the images on TV, I felt a sense of both shame and absolute powerlessness. What had any of this to do with me? Not a lot. Except that it built up a picture of the English that was increasingly hard to shake off. That day, there didn't seem very much any of us could do but be polite, go out of our way to offer our French hosts a "merci beaucoup? or "s'il vous plait? and, if anybody asked, reply ?It wasn't us.?
It is estimated that at least 100,000 England fans will make it out to Germany this summer. The travelling support to Portugal for Euro 2004 was the biggest to date, upwards of 50,000. At the opening game against France it seemed as if three quarters of the 65,000 capacity had been claimed by the English. Many of those going will be first-timers, as I was in France. Campaigns that took us to the quarter-finals in Japan and Portugal, the dramatic way in which we lost, trouble-free qualifiers, taking the home games around the country while Wembley is rebuilt, the Beckham factor followed by Roonmania have all contributed to the appeal. So has the geography, Germany is easy to get to by air, train or road.
So what are we? Ninety-minute patriots? Not likely, our passion doesn't come off in the wash. Glory-hunters? One trophy and nothing much else in four decades of trying dispels that accusation. Xenophobic thugs? Only those who project their own prejudices on to the flag we fly, wear and paint on our kids' faces claim this of the majority of us. We are I-N-G-E-R-L-A-N-D. Male and female, young and old, black, white and red all over. Tanked up on hope and pride, the hatred, prejudice and confrontation is ebbing away. Not gone entirely, but on its way out.
Mark Perryman (London) is the co-founder of philosophyfootball.com where you can buy their World Cup "Fanfreundschaft"-T-Shirt