I’ve just bought all the tickets I can for the Euro’s mate, I’ve got all the England group games and a couple of the knockouts. Want one? was probably the best text I got in the whole of 2016. Will had spent all of his money buying as many tickets as he could, in the hope that he would either follow England every step of the way to potential glory, or sell them and make a tidy profit if we were knocked out. As Timehop reminds me that it’s been a year since we made that fateful journey down to Marseilles for the opening game of England’s ill-fated campaign and England take on Scotland tonight; the time is right to publish the hour-by-hour recount of one of the funniest/most disastrous weekends of last year, as 4 friends headed south…
15.00 – I let my class of Year 5’s out for the weekend. The football fans among them talk about how many goals Dele Alli is going to score.
15.15 – My u11 boys football team begin their weekly training session ahead of a tournament in a few weeks time, both them and I shout an England player’s name every time we touch the ball.
16.15 – Training over, I release the kids to their parents and am behind the wheel of my car within seconds of the last child leaving. At the end of the A34, I arrive at GK’s house and we head to the station.
18.20 – We sneak into the Paddington underground line without a ticket and blagged our way out at Baywater.
19.00 – Disruption on the Circle line means we get out and walked the rest of the way and meet with Will and Ravi in a local pub. We watch Payet’s moment of brilliance earn hosting nation France 3 points over Romania; £10 for a burger and a pint in Central London isn’t too bad.
22.00 – We get a bus to Victoria, and we stop off at another pub for a final pint and a smoke before boarding the bus.
22.30 – The bus departs and heads for Dover.
00.30 – We arrive at the port and build a den on the ferry floor out of cushions, chairs and carefully positioned tables to ensure we get a some privacy/sleep whilst crossing the channel.
02.00 – With groggy eyes, we stumble off the ferry and through French customs. The border patrol officer discusses the France v Romania game with his colleague and barely pays us any attention.
02.40 – The whole coach is through the border, and we get some more shut-eye. The lights of Calais fade out as we hit the motorway.
07.00 – Have we lost an hour? Arriving in Paris, 7am has become 8am, or is it 6?
08.15 – The clocks have moved forward: we get our metro ticket and head to the Eiffel Tower for breakfast.
10.00 – Fed with eggs, it’s time for the first beer of the trip. We sit facing the tower with a bunch of Swedish fans, waiting for the lunchtime game to kick off.
11.45 – No time to go into the FanZone for the game, and we’ve soaked up enough of the atmosphere beforehand. Ravi suggests we go to the airport earlier than planned, “Just in case”, and we catch our bus/tram combination to the domestic airport.
12.20 – Why isn’t there a Marseilles flight on the departures board?
12.25 – AirFrance is on strike. Calamity. The man on the desk doesn’t want to know; we have a heated discussion on how we can get down to southern France. “We’re all over the limit… I don’t have my glasses and am essentially blind… It’s a 7 hour drive and we don’t have a car yet… The game is at 8pm… We wouldn’t even make it…”
12.35 – The lady at the information desk is much more helpful. There’s a train that leaves at 2pm. It’s fully booked, but it’s our only chance to get down to Marseilles in time for kick off. We hail a cab. “Watching it in the Paris FanZone won’t be that bad, will it?” is our back up plan.
13.15 – Of course, we have the slowest, most overly-cautious cab driver in Europe. Coupled with the violin soundtrack that he’s playing consistently, ignoring our desperate cries of “Allez, allez!”, tensions run high. But we’re at the station.
13.35 – The train pulls in, and a horde of Russian and English fans form a mob to ensure a seat. Ravi and Will speak to the conductors trying to get 4 tickets; George and I try to find potential buyers for our (potentially redundant) tickets in case they fail. We wait until the train is about to leave, and miraculously there are a dozen or so empty seats at €125 each. Ravi pulls out his parent’s credit card ‘for emergencies only’. “Pretty sure this is an emergency, isn’t it lads?”
14.00 – The train leaves, we have four seats near-enough next to us, but that was the least of our concerns. We’re going to make it. Next to us, two Russian fans spin a replica match-ball on their fingers; on the other side of the carriage English fans sing Wonderwall. We tell them about the past few hours and they donate a few sympathy beers.
17.30 – It’s been over 24 hours since I started travelling, and I’ve only just made it to southern France. I got to the Amazon in less. George and I grab 4 McDonald meals; Ravi tries to find out where our AirBNB is; Will bumps into a couple that he met in South America last year. Small world.
18.00 – We can’t find any taxis that are empty. Traffic is basically at a stand-still so hitch-hiking is out the equation. It’s a 4 mile walk to the apartment that we’ve booked for the night. We won’t make it, so text the host our apologies and take the €45-each hit, and try and find a hotel that can look after our rucksack for the game.
18.05 – With France on red-alert for terrorism after the recent attacks in Paris, all hotels have been told not to accept bags from any non-guests. We offer bribes and go from hotel to hotel, and get constantly rejected.
18.10 – A group of English lads are sat having pizza; I ask them if we can leave 4 bags in their hotel room. They say no (I can’t remember why), but tell their hotel’s receptionist that their ‘friends’ need a place to change. We strip down to our boxers and empty our bags onto the floor to prove to her that we don’t have explosives on us; she just sees 4 desperate lads, laughs and agrees to look after our bags and passports.
18.30 – We catch the Metro to the stadium, and can now relax (after one final “S**t, who’s got the tickets?”) and soak up the atmosphere. English fans dominate the stations and pour out onto the street in liquid-form. “Don’t take me ‘ome, please don’t take me ‘ome, I just don’t wanna go to work… I wanna stay here, drink all ya beer, please don’t please don’t take me ‘ome” rings out across southern France.
19.00 – A quick power-hour of beer consumption is needed before we enter the alcohol-free stadium. We get our tickets scanned, and are pleased with the level of security that the stadium officials provide upon entry. Thorough but necessary.
19.55 – National anthems. Despite being an atheist and slightly leaning towards anti-monarchist beliefs, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up (along with 45,000 other English fans) hearing God Save The Queen at an international game for the first time.
20.00 – Kick off.
20.45 – Nil nil at the break. Quite a stagnant first half, but there’re plenty of chances coming down the wings. Quietly optimistic.
21.27 – ERIC DIER! WE’RE GOING TO WIN THE GROUP. WE’RE GOING TO WIN THE WHOLE THING!
22.00 – 90 minutes is up. The team has been a bit shaky since Rooney was subbed and there’s been an ominous boom! that sounded vaguely like the bomb that was detonated outside France v Germany, but we’ll hold on for injury time. Three points is in the bag.
22.02 – You’re kidding. The Russian side of the stadium ignites as Berezutski scrambles the ball into Joe Hart’s net after some shoddy clearing from a corner. The final whistle blows. 1-1.
22.05 – Ten thousand Russians charge at the English fans. The mass movement of so many people gives the illusion of a wall as we look on in horror from the opposite side. I know for a fact that my friend Cory is in that stand, and can make out English fans jumping down the terraces trying to avoid them. Scenes reminiscent of Hillsborough. Police and security intervene.
22.30 – The whole atmosphere of the town has changed now that we’re back on the streets. Two points lost, a boom that’s still unexplained and a bunch of Russian hooligans, trained in martial-arts and armed with MMA gloves and gum-shields, a far cry from the two that we spoke to on the train. We walk the whole way back to the hotel, avoiding the groups of Russians loitering outside each Metro stop, and reclaim our rucksacks and passports. Four beers are ordered in mime.
00.30 – We’ve been here for hours, sat on the sofas, discussing how much of a ‘must win’ the Wales game has now become. A French girl buys us another round of beers.
05.15 – I’m not sure if I slept or not, but it’s now time for us to walk up to the train station and get a taxi to the airport. If AirFrance are still striking, we won’t make it to work on Monday. Most of the flights are cancelled, but our 5.45am one isn’t. I feel sorry for a group of Northerners who have to go to Amsterdam in order to get back to Manchester.
05.45 – Take off. I’m so tired I feel horrendously drunk. Not a single word is spoken until we land in Paris.
06.45 – “Phone… keys… wallet… NO!”, GK shouts and slaps his palm against his forehead when he realises he’s left his brand new iPhone 5c on the plane, having already passed security. He runs back to the plane and is stopped by a guard. Neither of the Lost Property kiosks have seen it; FindMyiPhone informs him that it’s on it’s way to Algeria. “Balls!” is his only outburst.
08.00 – “Right lads… to the bus stop.” We stagger our sleep-deprived legs towards the tram that takes us to the bus station. We’re early by 3 hours but the way this trip has gone, we’re all delighted that we can’t miss it. Snacks and drinks are bought.
11.00 – We set off to Calais.
14.15 – Border control at the ferry port again, we’ve got 45 minutes until the ferry leaves so we should make it. The four of us are some of the first through and sit back on the bus waiting to hear the engine rumble and board the ferry.
14.55 – It never starts up. A fellow passenger has had complications and is stuck at the border. The driver is under obligation not to desert him. We watch the ferry leave without us.
17.00 – We board the next ferry having spent an hour kicking a can around in the car park. We set off back to English soil, and I vow not to return to France until I’m 30.
21.40 – We’re back at Victoria, I think I managed to sleep on the bus but again I’m not sure. How have I managed to give myself jet lag on a trip to France?! Ravi sets off back to his London apartment.
22.00 – GK, Will and I are the wrong side of London, having gone east – not west – on the Circle line. I really need to sleep.
23.15 – Back at Paddington, we say goodbye to Will who heads back to Bristol. GK and I board the last train back to Reading.
00.30 – This is the third time I’ve been up at midnight in three days. We catch the local stopping service back to Goring; the hill up to the Kaye residency seems steeper than usual. My car is parked outside his house where I left it.
01.20 – I don’t know if it’s legal to be behind the wheel of a car when you’re this deprived of sleep.
01.45 – I’m home, finally. I set my alarm for 5.45am; pack my bag ready for tomorrow’s lesson (double Science, I think… Did I do those worksheets for Maths?) and hit the hay. The best 4 hours sleep I’ve ever had.
Despite these serious mishaps; losing money on a wasted AirBNB booking, fighting AirFrance for our refunds, watching your team squander a well-deserved 3 points, staying awake for 75+hours… this was an insanely good weekend, and I don’t regret it at all (although my headteacher was convinced I was still drunk come Monday morning… No, Mrs McVeigh, just knackered!). Big up Ravi, GK and of course Will for conceiving the whole weekend.
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