Monday, June 27, 2016

Euro 2016 Fin?

Euro 2016, France

Who would have thought it? Two weeks have passed since we set out on our own "Tour de France" and I heard in the last few days that all the Home Nations have qualified for the next round. Brilliant, who are Scotland playing?

Napoleon's Tomb, Paris, France.

I have struggled to keep up to date, (wifi in France isn't great) with things whilst we have been on the road, so maybe I missed something. Did UEFA finally actually act against Russia? Did they reinstate Scotland? Are the chances of those two things happening the same?

OK, so now you know that the final game I watched at this tournament was Wales against Northern Ireland. With the break between the group stage and the Round of 16, I was lucky enough to have time and good weather to explore Paris.

Louis Vuitton Foundation, Paris.

The Louvre, Petit Palais, Louis Vuitton Foundation, Napoleon's Tomb, Pere Lachaisse, Centre Pompidou were all visited where exhibitions of art by Rousseau, Paul Klee, Albert Marquet were viewed. But my favourites were The Beat Generation, with as well an exposition at the Philharmonie de Paris featuring The Velvet Underground (yes the ones that wrote I'm waiting for my man. Never early, always late, - you know who you are!).

Pere Lachaise - Oscar Wilde's tomb, Paris.

Looking for positives in the football I have witnessed is proving difficult. The real positives lie in having visited nine French cities, and sampling the food. Everyone knows about Paris, and I have just listed a few of the things you can see there.

We were lucky enough to have good weather in Nice which helped to make it my favourite city. If you've seen the photos you may notice the difference, and understand why I choose it as my favourite on this trip.

Stade de Bordeaux, France.

Then there was Bordeaux where it’s historic old town is on the UNESCO World heritage list and described as “an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble of the 18th century". Toulouse, the Pink City.

Lyon with the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. Marseille, a huge city which unfortunately saw bad weather to stop us fully exploring it on the two occasions we were there. Lille, with its Flemish architecture where we could see the beauty of this city, but didn't feel comfortable due to the situation I mentioned on our first night.

Sacre Coeur, Paris.

Lens & St Etienne are football hotbeds unlike the rest of France where you would have struggled to find out there was a tournament going on. The size of the towns and the size of the stadiums bear witness to this fact. Lens population 32,663 - Capacity of Stade Bollaert-Delelis 38,223. St Etienne 178,530 - Capacity of Stade Geoffroy-Guichard 42,000.

Petit Palais, Paris, France.

Special mention to the best Croque Monsieur, which was found at Fric Frac by Canal St Martin. But the French have other things to worry about. I visited the lively 11th arrondisment, scene of atrocities eighteen months ago when the Charlie Hedbo offices were attacked, and The Bataclan as recently as last November. It remains closed but is due to reopen on November 16th with Pete Doherty. The lively backstreets are vibrant, with bars full of students away from the tourist crowd.

Philharmonie de Paris, France.

We witnessed strikers marching at the Bastille against Hollande's labor legislation. There were more police than we had seem at any football match. Two thousand sealed of the area around the Bastille to ensure there were was no repeat of the incident the previous week when cars were set alight in protests at République.

If you remember before I set out there was problems with the level of water on the Seine, the rain seen in the first ten days couldn't have helped this.

Nice, France.

There was also the small matter of strikes, which I quickly realised was an occupation in themselves. Thankfully we were only affected once, and were not inconvenienced by them. Others would not have been so fortunate as planes were cancelled and if you didn't know about the strikes missing your train could have meant you were unable to get to your chosen destination on time.

So back to the football, the highlights, the fact that there was interest in all the group games, as quite often there can be meaningless games at the end of this stage. The fact that third place could qualify gave every team hope (OK maybe with Ukraine being the exception).

Northern Irish fans.

The supporters, seeing every country backed by well behaved supporters was a joy. The Northern Irish win my award for being the best supporters, the highlight - them out singing their German counterparts. Special mention to the Icelandic supporters with their clapping.

Also the passionate Hungarians who clearly were not going to be defeated by Iceland, it felt as though the ref had to play on until they scored such was the atmosphere in the Velodrome.

Hungary fans at Euro 2016.

Unfortunately now I have to go against what the supporters of many countries, yes not only the English speaking ones, have adopted as their anthem.

"Please don't send me home,
I just don't want to go to work,
I wanna stay here,
Drink all your beer."

Personally I would be happy just to stay and eat all their food, and take in the sights I didn't have time for, of which there are still plenty, oh and maybe attend one or two more football matches.

Iceland fans at Euro 2016.

Ross Clegg

Friday, June 24, 2016

Paris The Last Leg

France Euro 2016

The last leg of our Tour De France, saw us wake in St Etienne, and catch a train to Lyon, where we boarded our Ouigo train to Paris Marne-La-Vallée-Chessy. A journey of over 300 miles.

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

Ouigo is the French National Railways low cost train line (their Ryanair if you like.) We (I) booked our tickets last year for €10 each. We met someone yesterday who had paid over €100 for the Lyon to Paris leg of the journey.

There was a large queue to board, as tickets and baggage were checked. On board facilities were basic, again just think Ryanair - without the garish blue and yellow.

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

The two hour journey saw us arrive in Paris just after 10.30am.

Paris was open.

Lunch was had before heading to the stadium, where Northern Ireland fans out sang their German counterparts.

We then headed off to the eleventh arrondissement, a lively area near La République, today 21st June is Fête de la musique. Where you can find bands in most bars playing live music.

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

Unfortunately for us the festival seemed to be continuing into the night as we arrived back at our accommodation.

The next day, and we didn't have to travel!

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

We stayed in Paris and visited the cemetery at Pere Lachaise, The Crypt at Notre Dame and passed by the Louvre before heading off to Stade de France to see Iceland v Austria.

Paris The Last Leg, Euro 2016.

After the match we went to Grand Train, a disused railway building turned into an assortment of pop up bars and eateries.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

St. Etienne Euro 2016

St. Etienne Euro 2016

Beautiful blue sky first thing in the morning as I ran up the hill at Fourviere, 5 km and 250 steps later, I returned to find the other two still asleep.

St. Etienne, France.

We visited Musée Des Beaux-Arts in Lyon, before catching the train to St. Etienne.

In the afternoon we found the majority of shops and restaurants shut. Clearly the locals were put off, by what they had seen and heard earlier in the tournament and had decided to lie low. We had to settle for a pizza. There was nothing else.

Despite talk of alcohol bans, people were drinking in the streets, where Slovak fans mingled with the English. There was no hint of any trouble, but police were in the background in case.

St. Etienne, Euro 2016, France.

Supporters marauded through the streets to the ground, several clearly suffering from the lack of any alcohol ban, to the stadium, a fifteen minute walk from the centre of town.

The four stands inside the ground are next to the pitch and provide a better atmosphere than the newer stadiums with their sterile seating plans.

I couldn't quite make out the words to songs, as they seemed to be sung in a foreign language, but inspired by their performance on the pitch I think they were singing "England's going home". Then there was some other song "30 years of hurt", I must have misheard that one as I am sure it's 50.

I am pleased to report that I witnessed no problems in the city throughout the day, other than a few individuals who had drunk too much.

Ross Clegg

Monday, June 20, 2016

Marseille Again Euro 2016

Marseille Again Euro 2016

Got up at 6 am in Nice in time for a 10 km run along the 4 km promenade. The pace felt like that of the starter in Lyon two days earlier.

Marseille Again.

My alarm first went off at 3.50am, the time a week ago that this journey started. Since then we have been to 8 different venues and spent a day on a train (plus one flight) travelling.

The cool morning air, the waves breaking on the pebble beach and the Art Deco buildings made the run pass quickly.

At the far end of the promenade a number of Northern Ireland flags were laid with flowers in memory of the young man that died there last week.

Marseille Again, Euro 2016, France.

Nearby the police were moving on some Spaniards who had been partying/ sleeping on the beach.

The promenade was being hoovered and washed down whilst a boat sprayed water on the pebble beach to clean it.

After the run, I headed straight into the sea and quickly cooled down.

Returning to our apartment, no one knew that I had been out.

We took the train back to Marseille and met the clouds again.

The Hungarian supporters congregated in Vieux Port, setting of an array of flares as they headed off for the Velodrome Stadium.

We hid in a bar as the rain poured down before heading to the stadium for Iceland v Hungary.

The behaviour of a nearby Hungarian fan, led me to support Iceland and gave the game an edge. There was a tense atmosphere throughout as the Hungarians laboured. Riots were only avoided by a last minute equaliser for the Hungarians.

We headed to Notre Dame du Mont for Filet de Dorade Royale à la Planche, avec Risotto Basilic Bio.

Ross Clegg

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Nice Euro 2016

Nice Euro 2016

For the first time a conductor on the train checked our tickets. Looks like the strike might be coming to an end. Ivan and I showed the conductor our tickets while Steve checked the bins for his discarded coffee cup, in which he thought his ticket might be.

Nice, Euro 2016, France.

Later we discussed our future travel plans. That morning we received the final train tickets, by email, that we had booked months ago, for the journey on Monday between Lyon Perrache and Paris Marne-La-Vallée-Chessy. We were using this route as it was a cheap option and would take only two hours, by car it would be over four. Steve hadn't heard of our arrival station and I explained that it was the stop for Disneyland. Steve's innocent response "What ground is there then?" I thought to myself, some Mickey Mouse team.

The journey took us along the coast, looking to my left at times it looked like a Rauol Duffy painting while to the right their were breathtaking views of the sea.

Nice, France, Euro 2016.

The sun greeted us and we just had time to admire the view from our apartment overlooking Promenade des Anglais and the sea, before dining in the old town.

Rossopomodoro a pizzeria, was Steve's choice of restaurant. Steve showed off his language skills and ordered vegetarian pizza with tuna. Conversing in English, French and Italian with the waiter. (It's not uncommon for people in this area to speak Italian in preference to French as Nice is near the Italian border).

Nice, Euro 2016, France.

Ivan's pizza arrived with Steve's topping. I managed my Ricotta au lait de bufflonne, saucisson Napoli, mozzarella, tomate, fromage Grana et poivre. (Calzone pizza).

We caught the bus to the stadium and just made it in time for kick off after a 25 minute walk from the drop off point.

Spain strolled to an easy win and we started the long walk home. When we got back to pick up our bus it was chaos and midnight by the time we got back into town.

Ross Clegg

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Lyon Euro 2016

Lyon Euro 2016

We had time for some sightseeing in Marseille and chose to visit Notre Dame, the highest point in Marseille, for it's church and views over the city.

Notre Dame, the highest point in Marseille.

We caught the train, after checking it was running the night before, at lunchtime and made our way to Lyon as rain appeared on the Windows.

Steve called an Uber cab (I hadn't used it before and so was interested to see how it worked), to pick us up from our location, so that we could meet up with friends to watch the afternoon's game in Lens.

Ukraine v Northern Ireland, Lyon.

After 15 minutes, and us phoning the driver a few times we were united with the car and made our way. I can see room for improvements with the Uber system, these days with technology you should be able to get the driver to come to you.

After that there was a long bus journey to the stadium which is situated some 12km out of town.

Hail in Lyon, Euro 2016.

During the game fans abandoned their seats in scenes reminiscent of Ukraine v France in Donetsk four years ago, as the rain and then hail poured down. Play was suspended.

Thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as four years ago although it was for Ukraine as, like last time they lost 2-0. With Northern Ireland's boys in green on fire.

We decided to head to the old town and eat at a Bouchon rather than watch the football that night.

Bouchon, Lyon, France.

On the menu Fruit lets d'escargots aux asperges blanches, Crème d'ail et jus de persil (snail pastry with white asparagus garlic cream and parsley sauce). Followed by Andouillette Bobosse à la Fraise de veau sauce moût de raisin (Chitterlings sausage grape with a mustard sauce). And finally a strawberry soup. Excellent fayre for the evening unlike the 0-0 draw between Poland and Ukraine.

Northern Ireland v Ukraine, Euro 2016.

Ukraine fans in the rain, Lyon.

Ross Clegg

Friday, June 17, 2016

Marseille Euro 2016

Marseille Euro 2016

Once again we had to check the train timetables to ensure our train was running. It was, but it departed 40 minutes late. So far our journeys have been by TGV, but today it is an inter regional train which means a slower journey, which should take about six hours.

France v Albania, Euro 2016.

We have been spoiled by the efficiency of the TGV network, as it has made travelling easy and by booking months in advance we had some bargain prices.

Of course whilst on the train we saw the best weather of the tournament as we travelled from Bordeaux via Toulouse, Montpellier and Nimes to Marseille. The train was over 30 minutes late and staff handed out letters to be completed for refunds.

France v Albania, Marseille, Euro 2016.

Needless to say we were greeted by clouds, and as we sat down to Bouillabaisse in the Vieux Port, the heavens opened.

There was a heavy police presence, and some bars appeared closed but alcohol was being served. The scars from the weekend were still evident with the glass shattered on the front door and a plaster on our waiter's face covering his six stitches after he was attacked with a bottle.

France v Albania, Euro 2016.

You would hardly have known that a major football match was about to take place just a few miles down the road.

We took the Metro and arrived at the impressive Velodrome in plenty of time.

My night almost ended there after someone collapsed on me. Sending me over the seat in front with two rather large blokes on top of me. The culprit lay there upside down, apparently the victim of smoking something he shouldn't have been, in the stadium.

France v Albania, Euro 2016.

Albania once again gave there all, and were only beaten by two late goals.

Ross Clegg

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bordeaux Euro 2016

Bordeaux Euro 2016

The night before had been unkind to Ivan. As we left our apartment and headed for the earlier train he commented "Even the local tramp looks better than me."

Hungary players celebrate with their fans.

Due to the strike the train was always going to be crowded so we thought of ways to find a seat. "We could sing English songs, that usually works!" Guess who said that? I think you know that was not going to happen.

Despite having to play musical chairs we managed to sit for the two hour journey to Bordeaux.

Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux

As we got nearer to our destination the rain started once again.

Lunch today was at La Petit Commerce, a fish restaurant, the set menu with hake, was followed by the biggest Creme brûlée you have seen.

And as for the coffee.

Bordeaux, France.

Near the stadium the touts were out in force, as they have been at every stadium, but the demand seems to be decreasing match by match and it was no surprise to see plenty of empty seats in the stadium.

Tickets were exchanging hands at less than face value, with top category tickets going for €50. Normal price €145.

Hungary won the match, and we made our way back to town. For the first time we encountered delays and it took an hour to get back to town. Where we decided to go to a quiet restaurant as opposed to a bar to watch the game like the night before.

Le Miroir d'eau, Bordeaux, France.

On our way home we once again went to see Le Miroir d'eau, (the world's largest reflecting pool), where we had been earlier in the day. At that time we weren't impressed mainly due to the rain. This time the view of the Place de la Bourse was rather different.

Ross Clegg

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Toulouse Euro 2016

Toulouse Euro 2016

We left Lille in the pouring rain and headed to Charles De Gaulle airport for our flight to Toulouse.

Air France planes stood idly on the tarmac due to a strike by their pilots, but Easyjet flew to Toulouse.

Fuelled on Duo de Canard & Banofee Pie we headed through the beautiful town of Toulouse to the stadium, which sits on an island just 20 minutes from town.

Spain v Czech Republic Toulouse.

As, is now normal we arrived with 30 minutes to spare. No problems with security.

Spain dominated the game and won with a late goal.

Planning ahead we found that one of the tournament sponsors, the railway company SNCF had decided to cancel tomorrow's train that we were due to catch. The plan now is to try and jump on the one two hours earlier which we believe is running.

Spain v Czech Republic Toulouse.

We returned to town and settled in a bar to watch the Italy v Belgium game. The setting couldn't have been more different than that encountered on our first night. Sat in a courtyard, glimpses of a blue sky, and a large screen with view obscured by an overhanging tree and flowers.

Ross Clegg

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Parc de Princes/Lille Euro 2016

Parc de Princes/Lille Euro 2016

The morning after the night before and we are having breakfast in Lille discussing events. We hear that the Germans have asked to march from the centre of Lille to the ground a distance of 5 km. Steve's response to this "With tanks?"

Croatia v Turkey, Euro 2016.

We made our way to Paris by TGV and just had time for lunch, Croque Monsieur near Ivan's gym at République.

There was once again a police cordon around the ground. We had decided to leave our bags in Lille to avoid any delays. We cleared this check and were almost immediately met by another check.

Croatia v Turkey, Euro 2016.

Once again the stadium was bathed in red. This time it felt like the Turkish were making the majority of the noise.

Croatia appeared capable of opening up Turkey at will, but only managed the one goal which settled the game.

Croatia v Turkey, Euro 2016.

After this game we returned to Lille in time for Germany v. Ukraine.

After conceding a soft goal, Ukraine caused Germany lots of problems down the flanks, but were unable to beat Neuer.

Germany v. Ukraine, Euro 2016.

Looks like the Germans are advancing.

As we passed through the train station after the match I noticed now familiar posters announcing the trains that would be running the next day. It didn't take long to check. Thankfully the 05.57 was scheduled to run.

Germany v. Ukraine, Euro 2016.

Ross Clegg

Monday, June 13, 2016

Lens Euro 2016

Lens Euro 2016

Let me introduce you to my travelling companions. Some time ago I looked at the schedule for the tournament and decided that I would go for the first two weeks and visit every venue. After checking the logistics I put together an itinerary which fitted the bill. I circulated this and three friends expressed an interest.

Albanian Essex Boys.

Darren, you don't need to worry about. He can be relied upon and has helped with everything. It's Steve and Ivan we need to watch out for!

Steve's introduction on this visit was by text to Darren. "Problems on the bus in London, I think I'll be there in time."

Albanian and Swiss fans mingle.

No problem we are booked on the 8.58 Eurostar, arrive in Lille at 11.30, have to check into our hotel, dump our bags and catch the 12.19 to Lens.

He made it, and so did we. Arriving in Lens full after sampling business class catering. (Thanks again, Darren).

Along the way we caught up on the last four years as we were all together at Euro 2012. Amongst the stories told, the most memorable was Steve saying that it had taken him half an hour to eat a snail. Darren explained that snail's are slow!

Switzerland v Albania, Euro 2016, Lens.

On the train from Lille to Paris we discussed politics with two Frenchmen, who lived in Newcastle upon Tyne. Running Le Petite Creperie in the city - visit if you can.

In Lens we were to meet Ivan, we expected him to be waiting outside the train station but there was no sign. We took a moment to look around, and decided to head for the other exit, where Ivan would have arrived earlier. There he was sat patiently in the waiting hall with a rucksack on his back to distinguish him from the crowd!

Ivan is French and lives in Paris, so he should be really helpful on this trip.

In Lens we had heard that there was an alcohol ban for every game (not just the upcoming England v Wales match), so we were surprised to find out that this alcohol ban didn't include beer. So we headed to the nearest bar.

The population of Lens is actually less than the capacity of the Stadium, and there was visible security in place to protect them.

At the stadium Ivan's rucksack was spotted, security saw it/him as a risk and asked that he leave it outside the ground.

The ground was a sea of red with what seemed to me to be predominantly Albanian supporters. It was noticeable that supporters of both sides were sat together and had come to the game together. This was further evidenced by the teams, with a number of Swiss being Albanian, and some of the Albanian team play in the Swiss league.

The scoreboard, started the countdown to the match 9, 8. Being in France, I expected to hear neuf, huit, but instead heard the crowd countdown in English. Something I found strange for a country so proud of its mother tongue.

The advertising around the stadium, did not seem to be the usual suspects. Ironically the French Railways, SNCF, were on the billboards, as talk surfaced of more possible strikes. Are the major sponsors wary of football....probably.

An early goal for Switzerland settled the match, but a 10 man Albanian team gave a good account of themselves. Whilst the management dressed to impress!

he management dressed to impress.

4 hours and 48 minutes after arriving in Lens, we were leaving and heading back to Lille for the night.

Moules en frites were preferred over the joys of watching the football in a pub near the station full of English and German fans who seemed keen on reenacting World War II.

Later we found a quieter pub further away and had some good company as we watched the conclusion of the football for the day.

Ross Clegg

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Decent Start to the Euros

A Decent Start to the Euros.
Euro 2016


Two days in and the 2016 European Championship promises to be a reasonably entertaining and attacking tournament.

France happily won what had been a typically frustrating opening game thanks to Dmitri Payet's Roy of the Rovers winner. 

Had that game ended goalless it might have set a dull tone for the first round and more importantly left the host nation's fans a little demoralised when they need to be leading by example.

Les Bleus did some good midfield work and should have no trouble despatching limited Albania on Wednesday. With every win the host nation gets more behind its team and France have all the means to tap into the spirit of 1998 - fine players and home advantage most notably.

I travelled to Euro '92 in Sweden where there were only eight finalists: Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, France, England, Scotland and the Commonwealth of Independent States (the post USSR).

Some of those might not look like they belonged in the top eight in Europe but with this edition's expansion to 24 teams, the minnows clearly outnumber the big fish.

But how many tiddlers are there in the pond? Albania who had a typically plucky debut today, losing 1-0 to Switzerland and having their captain sent off, are clearly one. 

Yet the same afternoon, Wales, making their first finals appearance since 1958, beat Slovakia 2-1.

The other suspects -  Northern Ireland, Austria, Eire, Iceland, Hungary, Romania and Turkey could well upset an apple cart or two so it seems churlish to complain about the tournament's size at this stage.

Should we suffer from a plague of first-round draws and take-it-easy final games, as four our of the six third-place teams will qualify for the next round, then fingers should be pointed at Michel Platini, even though he has left the building.

I leapt for joy when Wales won today, not least because I lived over Offa's Dyke for four years and watched endless near misses at qualifying, even with the likes of Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes and Ian Rush in their ranks.

Gareth Bale clearly is a large part of their success, as his goal underlined today, but credit too must go towards Ashley Williams' solid marshalling of their backline and Chris Coleman's tactical nous. Their use of the flanks and diagonal balls were ideal against the overloaded Slovakian midfield in Bordeaux.

Slovakia again looked the hard-tackling, rugged side who muscled past Spain at home in the qualifiers, winning no points for artistic impression. 

Skipper Martin Skrtel was particularly aggressive and was lucky to escape censure for elbowing Jonathan Williams in the box and body-checking Bale at one point. What a pity Marek Hamsik and their other creative players are not the abiding memory.

As for England, their 1-1 draw with a very limited Russia was a textbook example of the old adage that it's goals that win games. Were football a sport like ice dance, Roy Hodgson's men would have won on points by a canter. 

The Three Lions played excellently for about an hour, employing pace and off-the-ball movement to produce flowing football like the best modern sides, before succumbing in injury time to Russia's umpteenth hoof up towards the big guys.

Despite the outrageous last-gasp theft of points from a deserving England, there was something endearing about Russia doing a compelling impression of a lower-league English side.

After a confusing few final friendlies and a questionable squad selection, Hodgson's men finally seemed to be clicking, even though they only managed a draw.

Alas, hooliganism has already reared its ugly head and not just between English and Russians in Marseille.

After a scary experience in that port city in 1998 when England played Tunisia at the World Cup, I was happy to avoid it this time. A big football match, large stadium, hot weather, local youths, rival fans and strong lager proved another dangerous cocktail for trouble in 2016.

Roy Hodgson

Whilst the press have clearly been exaggerating again over the past couple of nights, it was clear on television today that much violence was only too real. Let us pray this is the last football-related trouble of Euro 2016 and we can only talk about on-field activities from now on.

Sunday matches (times GMT)
Turkey v Croatia 2pm
Poland v Northern Ireland 5pm 
Germany v Ukraine 8pm

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile