DURING his 34-year odyssey to witness England lift the World Cup, Brian Wright has loyally followed the team over land and sea to 377 games.
From the Amazon Jungle to the deserts of Arabia, he’s fled marauding ultras, wrestled a sumo, swam with sharks and caught deadly piranha fish during his England adventures.
Now – in a pirate's hat and clutching his replica World Cup – Brian stares out over HMS Wag from his luxury cruise ship moored in the warm Gulf waters at its bow.
"What a life," says Three Lions-crazy Brian. "I'm out here in Qatar with some of my best friends in the world watching my country at the World Cup.
"If England win it, it will complete my journey."
The superfan’s Three Lions obsession has cost him over £140,000 – and, he says, contributed to the breakdown of two marriages.
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The dad-of-two joked: “This is the first World Cup that I’m going as a single man. I’ve come back from a couple single!”
From the luxury MSC Poesia – where Brian is sharing a cabin with fellow England fan Kevin Booth – he has been waving towards the England wives and girlfriends' ship the MSC World Europa.
He said of his neighbours – who moved from the £1bn ship to luxury hotels and villas this week: "It was nice having the Wags next door.
"I was sending subliminal messages saying 'Foden must start'."
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Since he began following the team in 1988, Brian has notched up more England games than Bobby Charlton, Gary Lineker, Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane have in combined caps.
It hasn't come cheap. Brian added: "£140,000 sounds like a lot of money. You could buy a house or a decent car with that.
“But I don’t think about the cash, it’s about life experiences and the friendships I’ve made. You can’t put a price on that.”
The Coventry City fan, 53, has watched England home and away at 16 tournaments and eight World Cups.
He’s rarely missed an England game in three decades with exceptions made for funerals, a wedding and when Covid restrictions applied.
Brian, whose home in Rugby, Warwickshire, is rammed with Three Lions memorabilia, revealed: “I see going to watch England as my calling.
“Wembley is my church and following England across the world has been a privilege. It’s a passion which may even be an obsession.”
Along the way, he’s met England luminaries Sir Geoff Hurst, Gareth Southgate, Harry Kane and It’s Coming Home co-song writers David Baddiel and Frank Skinner.
Coventry-born Brian revealed: “It was my dad Brian senior who gave me my love of football.
“He was a Leicester fan who passed away five weeks before they won the Premier League title in 2016.
“I put a league table in the coffin with him and a copy of the Sporting Life as he liked a bet.”
Brian’s first tournament was Euro 88 held in West Germany when football was still tainted by rampant hooliganism.
England lost all three games and went home after the group stage – but Brian had fallen in love with the “camaraderie” and was hooked.
The dad remembered: “It was special. Fans singing and drinking in a group, I loved that feeling of togetherness.”
Yet the so-called English Disease of hooliganism was still rife in 1988 with 381 Three Lions fans arrested during the tournament.
Brian added: “There were scraps going on all over the place. I didn’t want to see that and definitely didn’t want to be involved in it.
“It made me feel sick and ashamed to see fans being sent home bloodied and bruised.
“Now England fans have a reputation where people want us to be in tournaments. We spend money and have a good time.
“I want us to be ambassadors when we travel abroad. We represent our country.”
Since then he’s followed England to footballing outposts including Lichtenstein, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova and North Macedonia.
At the 2002 Japan World Cup Brian ended up taking on a sumo wrestler after England had beaten Argentina following a David Beckham penalty.
The one-time football referee explained: “We were partying after the game in a park and came across a 25st sumo wearing only what looked like a nappy.
“Fans were taking it in turns to fight him. I couldn’t even get my arms around him and he picked me up and threw me in a fountain. It was good natured and we were all laughing.”
Even when the football was dire Brian made sure he lapped up
At the South African World Cup in 2010 he stayed in a safari lodge and was immersed in the sea in a cage to swim with great white sharks.
“All I could hear in my head was the ‘de da, de da’ theme tune from the Jaws film,” he remembers. “I was terrified but loved it.”
During the Brazil World Cup in 2014 he fished for piranhas in the Amazon, saying: “We used bamboo sticks, a bit of string and a slice of raw meat.
“I caught one and still have the teeth. We had hammocks beside the river and had a piranha barbecue. It tasted like chicken.”
The football wasn’t quite as enjoyable.
STRAIN ON HIS MARRIAGE
Brian – whose favourite England player is Paul Gascoigne – explained: “In Brazil we didn’t get out of the group – we were out in six days, my malaria tablets lasted longer.
“But I still had a great time. It's not just the 90 minutes, it’s the build up, everyone meeting up, having a sing song, having a drink, enjoying life.”
Brian married Dolores, now 54, and had daughters Alex, 25, and Stella, 22.
But his England trips were putting a strain on the marriage.
When he returned from Euro 2004 in Portugal he says his belongings – including England memorabilia – had been dumped in a skip. The pair divorced.
Later Brian proposed to new girlfriend Lisa at World Snooker Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield in 2012 before marrying her in 2019.
In 2016 he took Lisa to Marseille in the south of France to watch England take on Russia in the European Championship in what he imagined would be a romantic break.
The Three Lions obsessive said: “We were having a nice meal and a glass of wine and all of a sudden we heard glass smashing, tables flying and saw people running.
“The owner of the little cafe said, ‘Come in’ and pulled the shutters down. You could see it all kicking off.
“Russian ultras were smashing into the England fans, who tried to defend themselves but the ultras were all tooled up.
“We went back to our hotel balcony and it was like overlooking a triage. Blood was splattered everywhere.
“England fans have moved on violence decades ago but other nations haven’t.”
He’s currently going through a divorce from Lisa, 45, saying: “She never actually said, ‘It's me or England’. She just said, ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it’.”
“I’ve had ups and downs in my life but England have always been there for me. It’s what I do.”
Brian – whose new business venture Sporting Legend Events arranges for fans to meet their heroes – says his best game was England’s 5-1 crushing of Germany in 2001.
His worst ever game following the Three Lions was the mortifying defeat to footballing minnows in the 2016 Euros.
The revealed: “I’ve seen many crushing defeats but that was dire. It was so depressing, it even made me question why I was going to games.
“I questioned myself if I could carry on. I’m glad I did. We’ve started to be good.”
This year Brian was invited to St George’s Park – the FA’s national football centre – to meet Gareth Southgate and the players.
“I had a good chat with Gareth,” Brian said. “I thanked him for getting to the 2020 Euros final when the country was going through coronavirus.
“I said that if we win the World Cup I’ll stay on MSC Poesia and go on a world cruise.
“He replied: ‘Keep a space for me, I’ll be coming on it with you.'
“I thanked Kane for his Round of 16 goal against Germany at the 2020 Euros. There were absolute limbs everywhere.
“He said: ‘You’re more than welcome. I hope to give you all that feeling in Qatar’.”
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So will Brian end his obsessive globetrotting if England finally lift the World Cup for the first time since 1966?
With a wry smile, he added: “Absolutely not. I’d like to see us defend it.”
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