SAPPORO, Japan, Reuters
Screaming schoolgirls and heavy security greeted a bemused England squad when they arrived at their golf course resort hotel outside Sapporo on Thursday.
About 250 people, the vast majority of them Japanese schoolgirls who waited up to three hours to catch sight of the England captain and fashion icon David Beckham, were held back by armed guards behind security ropes.
Hotel guests were also herded into ‘safe’ zones away from the dangers of being caught close to the England squad as they stepped off their coach and walked 10 meters into the hotel where, after being presented with bouquets of flowers, they were escorted to their third floor rooms.
Even the lifts area and the hotel shop were guarded and patrolled with two plains-clothes policemen, wearing identifiable armbands, standing close to hotel guests who were caught purchasing newspapers or packed lunches. Large bouquet Both Beckham and the England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson were given a large bouquet of flowers by the hotel staff as they entered the hotel where, in the entrance, a flag of St. George had been positioned, since Wednesday evening.
In honor of the England team’s arrival, the hotel closed down the swimming pool, a small gym, a sauna and the surrounding lush golf course to all other hotel guests.
“We are asking for our money back,” said one small group of England fans, penned into a lobby area, during the mayhem.
Keiko-Tokita, 33, a hotel receptionist, said she had given Beckham his flowers. “It is a day I will never forget,” she said. “He did not speak to me, but he smiled. I will remember this for ever more.”
Eriksson, forced to wait for five minutes while the hotel’s three lifts were fully occupied, was asked if he liked the flowers. Looking puzzled, he smiled and said: “Oh, yes. They are very nice.”
The guards were acting on the orders of the hotel management who, in turn, were instructed by two track suited members of the England party.
“Tell them to move back, they are too near the doors, get them away,” said one of the two as enthusiastic Japanese attempted to move towards the hotel entrance.
Beckham was clearly the main attraction for the Japanese teenagers who screamed when he stepped off the coach. A battery of cameras went off producing flashing lights, but the England captain did not stop to sign autographs.
“He walked straight in without turning his head,” said Anna, from Italy. “He was the only player who did not stop or smile for them.”
Earlier, England’s near-neurotic obsession with security had seen police and security guards patrolling and searching the golf course with Alsatian dogs, presumably in fear that there may be dangerous objects, or terrorists, lurking.
More than 7,000 police have been put on duty in Sapporo in readiness for any trouble caused by clashes between England’s notorious hooligans fans or the Argentines.
Other members of the England staff had called the Japanese chefs from the kitchen the previous evening during the normal guests’ dinner time to tell them precisely what was expected of them. Two England staff also spent time on Thursday morning checking each hotel room on the third floor.
To many of the England followers who had spent large sums of their own money to reserve rooms in a resort hotel with a golf course, the scenes smacked of paranoia. “We don’t need this,” said David from London. “It’s unnecessary and out of order. It’s a kind of paranoia.”
A win for England on Friday would put them in control of the group but a defeat would leave them needing to beat Nigeria in their final match and hoping other results go their way to claim a place in the second round.
England were held to a 1-1 draw with Sweden in their opening match while Argentina edged a 1-0 victory over Nigeria.