Saturday 11th June
I had decided to give the game in Marseille a miss, so I sorted out games 2 & 3. As the tournament got nearer I cracked and I decided on the Sports Options day trip. My original decision had been based on the chaos there in 1998 (blog from that trip can be found HERE) . It was an early start from Stansted and as I fancied a few beers on the trip caught a train around 3am to Gatwick then the National Express Coach to Stansted airport, arriving at 6.30am, perfect for a 6.40am check in!
I had booked up the trip on my own as all my mates had headed out a few days before. At the airport I bumped into the West Ham/Hornchurch/Dagenham lads I had met in Japan. A real bonus as a cracking set of lads so I new it would be a superb day regardless of the result.
Before you could say phew its hot, we had found a bar selling ice cold beer. What more could you ask for. We had seen/heard about the problems in the Old Port area so we decided to avoid that. So after a few cold ones we decided to move on to Castellane which was a few stops away on the metro, and also near enough to the ground to walk to it later on.
|Great to meet up with Mark, Ciaren, Lewes and Dean, fellow Albion fans in Castellane|
|Yet more Albion fans turn up - Seagulls|
The atmosphere was building, the bar we were in was now half England half Russia. We could hear lots of noise up the road and it was the Russian Hooligans being escorted to the ground. As the passed our bar a few split away and we came under a hail of glasses and bottles. The bar owner pulled people inside and we took refuge in a Turkish restaurant with the doors and shutters firmly pulled shut! It was obvious the French Police were shit scared of the Russians and they had a free had to dish out violence wherever they wanted. Anyway we regained our composure, finished our beer and as it was now only an hour to KO time to walk to the ground.
|What an amazing ground the Stade Veledrome now is with is impressive roof (last time totally open to the elements)|
I bumped into fellow Albion fan Scott in the ground, and I have to confess to being slight past my best! Oh how we celebrated going 1 up, to the huge disappointment of conceding a last minute equaliser.
I somehow met some other lads towards the end of the game on the same day trip, so tagged along with them to make sure I found the way back to the coaches waiting at the train station to take us back to the airport. I was soon soundly sleeping at Marseille Airport, then on the flight back, I got a free National Coach trip back as the ticket system at the airport was down, they told me to sort when I got to Heathrow, I woke up as we pulled into Gatwick South Terminal at 7am Sunday morning. It had been a long day trip!
Wednesday 15th June
So now it was back to my original planned journey out to Euro 2016.I caught a reasonably early Eurostar from St Pancras to Lille, arriving the day that Russia where due to play Slovakia there! Oh deep joy! The train was packed full of England Fans, the police ran out of a fan guide card so we took turns to photograph it on our phone!
So we arrived into Lille on time. Next plan was find somewhere to beat the beer ban, turned out to be the bar on the station! I had arranged to meet Man City Dave there and we settled down for a quick couple of beers. I was then heading to Albert to meet up with my fellow Motor home travellers, but the 14.02 was cancelled due to the strike and the next train was 17.02! So another lad who I had been sitting to on the train and was heading to Arras (half way to Albert) embarked on a magical mystery tour to get to our destination!
First train was Lille to Lens, the place was full of Wales and England fans, so we joined them for a beer or two. Despite the beer bans supposedly in place the bar we were in had stocked up with a beer barrel or two.
There were some fine views in Lens :-)
Next it was Lens to Arras. I had an hour to wait for my train so visited a couple of bars ready for tomorrow when we would be back on route to Lens
Woo Hoo - Albert - I had made it! I let me mates know and some where driving towards our campsite so they told me to wait in the bar (damn) so I had another beer in a Wellington Boot! What a glass, what a shame I failed to take it with me - the barman showed a surprising turn of place to replace my glass for a plastic one.
|Albert in the Evening Sun|
Thursday 16th June
Match Day! We had booked our train tickets the day before, so the plan was an early train to Arras, a pit stop of 3 hours for some food and possible a beer or two. Then about 12.30 head to Lens as this was a 3pm KO French time. Arras was packed as it was pouring with rain so everyone was crammed inside. We moved away from the station and found a great bar so settled down there for a very tasty omelet and some very good french beer.
We arrived into Lens and soon everyone was singing "Cheer up Gordon Strachan oh what can it mean to a sad Scottish bastard and a shitttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt football team". England and Wales united for once! We soon found Scott in a kebab shop charging his phone, the night before he had lost a pair of trousers and failed to charge his phone, so we made very quick plans to meet in the nearest place to the station! Amazingly it worked.
We moved off round the corner and soon bumped into Nelson, yes Lens is small but it was packed so that was a right result! We drank non local beer, all the place had left was bottles of Sol! At least they were cold! We avoided talking football as most England fans were nervous of this match!
Despite there being loads of Wales fans in Lens they had very few in the ground other than the official allocation. Lens was great pre match and the Police , tear gas and horses were not needed.
|Got, Got, Need, Got !|
Despite Wales going 1 up and Bale deliberately running down to celebrate in front of us (I was trying to do his love heart hand signal but look to have got it slightly wrong!), we recovered and the place went mental as Sturridge grabbed us a last minute winner.
Friday 17th June
Friday 17th June
So today was post match day relaxation. Kev and Rob headed out to get a replacement tyre as they had had a puncture on the drive up from Marseille. I walked into town to get a coffee and watch the first game. It turned into a long day going between bars to watch 3 games of football, It was a very relaxing and fun day. I had walked in ahead of the others and as I got about half way in the thunder started and then the heavens opened! Yes I did get wet!
The smashed up Pharmacy, quick call the press, England fans on the rampage in Albert! Actually it was a local car driver that had somehow taken out a bollard and driven straight into the shop! The car was being put on a recovery truck when we walked past.
We watched the last game in the Three Pigeons, a pub full of Clapton Orient and Leyton Orient stuff, they had been out over various years to pay tribute to footballers killed during the first world war.
We finished the evening on rum and some on Pastis (Yuk!).
Saturday 18th June
After a few beers too many (I was only drinking on match days - but every day out here was a match day), I decided today would be SANS alcohol. I was up and out early for a run from the campsite. It was a beautiful place to run and I even saw a fisherman pull a whopper from the lake! I managed 6.6 miles so happy with that.
As we where in the heart of the Somme today we visited the main church in Albert and the Somme trench museum to show our respects to the millions that died. It was very moving and also more poignant as on the 1st July it would be the 100th anniversary of the first battle of the Somme. The British Empire lost 420,000 men to gain 17 meters in the battles of the Somme, more than 1,000,000 died in total in JUST the battles of the Somme. Shocking stuff, it should have been the war to end wars, but sadly as know people are still being slaughtered today.
Albert itself was very important to the Allies as it was a key supply town, it was taken originally by the Germans in August 1914, retaken in September 1914, taken again in March 1918 before being liberated in August 1918. In that time the population fell from 7,343 to 120. The place was obliterated, just rubble left, apart from the Church (which was very badly damaged)
Sunday 19th June
I had loved Albert and also the great Northern Ireland fans we had the pleasure to meet, however it was time to drive from Albert to Saint Etienne. With 8 hours ahead of us out came the travel scrabble, I think judging by the celebrations Jimmy won!
We had not booked anywhere to stay until Fiona found out there was a fans camping zone in St Etienne, a right result. We had hit the motorways and paid the tolls as it was a long drive. We arrived about 7pm and we were soon parked up, in what turned out to be play off failure row - Millwall, Plymouth and our truck all in a row. There were plenty of Slovaks parking up as well. We decided to walk into the City, it probably took about 45 minutes.
|Who would have known they had been playing scrabble just hours before!|
It was a Sunday night and not many food places open , so when we came across an open kebab shop which sold beer and also had the football on screen it would have been rude not to stop. There were quite a few Muslims about desperate for the sun to go down so they could eat during Ramadan!
We ended up in the main square and met our Peterborough mates for a few beers. The square was packed and we had a good drink before finding a bar down a side street. It was now pretty late so we walked back an alternative route to base camp.
Monday 20th June
So on to the final group game. I needed us to finish anywhere but 2nd as I would not be able to be in Nice for the game on the Monday. It was a very warm day, so after some nice french bread with ham and cheese, Fiona decided it was time to crack open the first beer. A couple of hours later and the Pina Colada was out the fridge, I am amazed I survived the day to be honest!
So after the alcohol supply ran low we headed towards the city. We found a restaurant and as it was serving beer settled down for a couple of hours. I had a Mojito cocktail to help me sober up (think I had gone beyond help at this point). We decided we better head to the ground at some point.
Despite being 2 hours until KO it was chaos at the ticket check points and ended up in a pretty scary and dangerous crush to get in! The Police inside stood around doing FA, appalling and it could have ended in more the tears for some people. Finally in and we headed in to our seats, once again down at the front.
So we get the result and finish 2nd that means no round of 16 for me! Gutted! It would be time for me to head home the next day.
Tuesday 21st June
So it was a reasonably early start. Not a great beginning to the journey home when the taxi failed to turn up. One of the lads running the campsite gave 2 of us who were waiting a lift to the station. I was expecting a solo journey home but bumped into Jon Vallance and Mark Brailsford who were on the same trains back. we had an hour in Lyon and then an hour or so in Paris before the Eurostar home.
Yep, definitely at Lyon. So we had a couple of hours before the next train from Lyon to Paris.
Sunday 26th June
As I was back home I went to the Crawley Beer and Folk Festival to take my mind off not being out in Nice. It was a fun afternoon, good music and the football on a big screen.
Monday 27th June
Match Day 4 England v Iceland watched at the Big Screen on Brighton Beach. We celebrated the early goal and talked about returning to the next game in Paris (watching this match as I do my blog!!) as we watched Iceland equalise and then go 2-1 up. They deserved to win on the day. So thats Euro 2016 done and dusted. A great couple of trips, but very poor on the pitch. 8 weeks to Slovakia, count me IN!