My trip to the European Championships didn’t start well. I flew in to Nice from Malaysia via Istanbul only to find that Turkish Airlines couldn’t get the hold of the plane open. That meant that they couldn’t offload my bag. Their somewhat less than imaginative solution to the problem was to fly the plane back to Turkey where I presume that they keep their special hold-opening spanner.
Paul landed at Nice shortly afterwards for our third Euros on the trot. His luggage arrived ok, but as it invariably consists of nothing more than an assortment of twenty year old Ramones t-shirts I thought I’d better stop off at a Decathlon to kit myself out with enough clobber to last for the three days until my bag was supposed to arrive.
We’d originally been intending to drive to Marseilles for the England game with Russia but experience had suggested that fixture might not be the carnival type atmosphere that you normally have in these tournaments and we’d changed our plans a few weeks before. Instead we headed for the hills for a three night stay in Moustiers Sainte Marie.
Picturesque doesn’t really do Moustiers justice. I’m sure it’s a well-known holiday destination, particularly among the French, but I’d never heard of the place. We did some hiking on a trail that I think formed part of one of the long distance routes and took a boat along a river that flowed through a deep canyon.
We also had a drive around the top of the canyon. It’s definitely another one of those places that I’d like to return to and see a bit more of.
Crucially for the football, our hotel had a telly set up in the bar, as did a place ten yards down the road. With three games a day in those early days of the tournament we were able to get into the swing of it with very little effort. Neither of us is particularly familiar with European international football these days and so it was useful for us to be able to ease our way into the teams, their personnel and the drinking options before the live action started.
Our first live game was in Bordeaux and as it’s a fair trek by car we drove back down to Nice and took a flight. We weren’t sure until we got to the airport that we’d actually be travelling. The Air France pilots strike was causing a bit of havoc, but as our flight was operated by the Air France budget division ‘Hop!’ we got away with it. To their credit, ‘Hop!’ had no trouble opening the hold upon landing.
The hotel in Bordeaux was only a short walk through a wasteland from the airport and after checking in we took a taxi to the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux for the Group F game between Austria and Hungary.
I was pleased that a new stadium had been built for the tournament as I’d already been to the old Bordeaux ground, fourteen or fifteen years earlier, when my son Tom and I had watched Christophe Duggary run the show for Girondins de Bordeaux.
There were lots of fans milling around outside and even more arriving from the tram stop nearby. We went against the flow of people so that we could buy our train tickets back into town in advance. It was clear that the game wouldn’t be a success for the touts as there was still an hour or so to go to kick-off and already tickets were being given away for free.
We had a chat on the way in with a steward who had travelled from England. He revealed that he wasn’t paid for it but did it because he enjoyed being part of the tournament rather than a regular spectator. He mentioned that he’d got lucky and had managed to get into one of the stands towards the end of the previous game at this stadium and had been able to see the last ten minutes of the Wales v Slovakia match.
We did a lap of the concourse inside the stadium before finding our seats. Kebab and chips was a decent football food option but with the UEFA ban on alcohol meaning that the only beer on sale was a 0.5% strength Carlsberg, the drinks options were as poor as ever.
I often like to pick a side in these games and the sight of women wandering around in those low-cut traditional dirndl blouses, combined with spotting a bloke with Pogatetz’ name on the back of his shirt initially had me rooting for Austria.
However, the presence in the Hungarian goal of a forty-year old keeper who had turned up in a pair of baggy grey tracky bottoms was enough to have me switching my allegiance to Hungary. Perhaps there wasn’t time for his team bus to call in at a Decathlon on the way.
The first half was quite even, with both teams showing a willingness to press forward and with the defenders taking opportunities to go past attackers and run the ball out of defence.
Hungary opened the scoring on the hour and with Austria being reduced to ten men shortly afterwards it was always going to be difficult for them to get back into it. Hungary sealed the victory with a late breakaway goal just as we were about to get a march on the crowd.
The tram back to Gare St Jean came quickly enough and we were soon in the city centre. There were a couple of bars outside of the station showing the nine o’clock game and we settled in the less rough of the two to watch Portugal’s draw with Iceland.
There weren’t many transport options late in the evening. Taxis were difficult to come by and after a wait of an hour or so we finally managed to share one with someone going in the direction of our hotel. One game done, three to go.