Archive for October, 2016

Northern Ireland v Ukraine, Thursday 16th June 2016, 6pm

October 31, 2016


The third game of our Euro trip took us to Lyon for Northern Ireland’s fixture with Ukraine. Our train wasn’t until mid-morning and so I took the opportunity to have a wander around Paris before breakfast. It’s amazing what you can stumble across when you least expect it.


Paul and I had upstairs seats on the train for the two-hour journey to Lyon. The train was busier than the one we’d taken the previous day, with plenty of Northern Ireland fans enjoying their first tournament since the days when Pat Jennings was between the sticks.

Our hotel in Lyon was only five minutes from the station, but our plan to head into the town centre was scuppered by an alcohol ban. It all seemed a bit over the top, particularly as neither of the teams involved have any reputation for mischief.

We headed away from the station in search of a quiet area of town that might have bars that were either unaffected by the ban or had chosen to ignore it. We eventually found one showing the England game and we were the only customers. If Carlsberg did bars…


We hung about long enough to see England sneak a spawny injury time win over Wales and then managed to flag down a taxi to take us to the Stade de Lyon. We arrived with a few minutes to spare and by entering via a side entrance we were quickly inside.


We made our way to our seats just as the National Anthem struck up. I know how the Queen feels now. We had seats on the edge of the Irish section and fortunately we were high enough up to be under cover. It started to rain early on and it wasn’t long before it was heavy enough to have people in the lower tiers scurrying upwards in search of somewhere drier.


The Irish fans were fantastic, singing throughout the game and pausing only when offering up a minutes applause for a fan who had died earlier in the week. Sadly, another of their number passed away during the second half.


Both teams had lost their first games in the group and so a defeat for either side in this game would make qualifying difficult, even in a competition where only eight of the twenty-four teams taking part go home after the first-phase.

With the heavy rain making good football difficult, Northern Ireland took the lead just after half time when Gareth McAuley ghosted into the Ukranian box for an unmarked header. As you can imagine, the Irish fans were quite pleased.


The rain got heavier over the next ten minutes or so and when the hailstones starting arriving the ref called a temporary halt. From what I saw later on the telly, some of them were the size of chocolate brazils and so it was probably the right decision.

The weather didn’t seem to affect the Ukrainian fans behind the far goal, who just removed most of their clothes. I’m not sure that’s necessarily the best approach in hailstorms.


The Irish didn’t sit back on their lead and there always looked to be another goal in the game. We had to wait until the ninety-sixth minute for it to come, with Niall McGinn knocking in a rebound to secure a two goal victory.

The rain had stopped by the final whistle and we were able to join the queue for the tram into town. It was all very well organised and we were soon whisked away and deposited near to the station that we’d arrived at that morning.


The alcohol ban in the centre posed the same problems as earlier in the day and so we decided to head back to the bar where we’d watched the England game. For some reason it was closed. Perhaps having two customers at a time that afternoon had worn them out.

We walked around for a while, mainly through a Muslim area that was unaffected by the temporary alcohol ban due to  none of the establishments selling the stuff in the first place. We eventually found a pizza place that not only had food and drink, but also had that evening’s other Group C game between Germany and Poland on the telly.


Three games down, one to go.

Switzerland v Romania, Wednesday 15th June 2016, 6pm

October 29, 2016


Our second of the four games in four days was the Switzerland v Romania clash at the Parc de Princes. The train to Paris was scheduled to depart Gare St Jean in Bordeaux at around 8.30am, which meant we were back outside the station not too long after we’d left it in the earlier hours of that morning.

Perhaps in hindsight, a hotel by the station rather than the airport, might have been a more sensible option.

With a little time to spare we had the opportunity for a second breakfast and whilst a freshly baked pain de raison is probably as good as it gets, it’s always more fun to feed it to a bird when you can get it to take the pastry directly from your hand.


We had upstairs seats on a double-decker train and so got decent views of the countryside on the journey to the capital. A group of Swiss blokes were in our carriage, dressed in those leather shorts with the braces. It was a national look that could only have been bettered if they’d each been scoffing an airport-sized Toblerone.


Our hotel in Paris was more conveniently located than my Bordeaux choice had been and after a spot of lunch we strolled, as you have to do when in Paris, towards the ground. It was only about forty minutes walk away and we passed a few notable sights.


We paused at a bar just before reaching the Parc de Princes where Paul and I sat outside and kept an eye on the three o’clock game through their window. I recall people complaining about the expansion of this tournament to twenty-four teams but I reckon the three games a day routine in the early stages is ideal, particularly when your tickets are for the middle game of the trio.


After the efficient organisation at Bordeaux the previous day, the stewarding in Paris left a lot to be desired. We arrived in plenty of time but could easily have been caught up in a crush as the searches took far too long.


There were more than enough stewards and Police on duty but most of them seemed to want to observe proceedings rather than carry out the searches. Eventually we made it in, with about ten minutes to spare.


Our seats were terrible, despite being Category One. We had a concrete wall in front of us that gave us about half the leg room that you’d get on a Ryanair flight. It would have been fine for standing, but it wasn’t possible to sit in the space available.


Fortunately the match hadn’t sold out and we were able to move back a row and restore some circulation to our lower limbs.

The game was end-to end, with both teams creating chances and a world apart from what I’ve come to expect in the group stages of tournaments. Romania took the lead through a first half penalty before Switzerland salvaged a point with an impressive volley from Mehmedi.


The point wasn’t quite enough to enable Switzerland to clinch qualification for the last sixteen, but it was sufficient to keep Romania’s hopes of making the  knockout stage alive.


With the game over we took a short cut out of the ground that avoided the crowds but probably added a little distance to our route. It still left plenty of time for us to find a bar showing the host nation making hard work of their clash with Albania. Two games down, two to go.

Austria v Hungary, Tuesday 14th June 2016, 6pm

October 24, 2016


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.

Vietnam U21 v Singapore U21, Sunday 5th June 2016, 4.45pm

October 9, 2016


I have to work Saturdays in my new job, although I’ve plans to change that. One of the drawbacks is that it tends to prevent us from going away for the weekend, unless it’s to somewhere close by. Fortunately Melaka is only about an hour and twenty minutes drive away from where we live and so we decided to spend a Saturday night there.

It was dark by the time we arrived and so there wasn’t much to see until the next morning. After breakfast we had a walk along the side of a river from our hotel to the main tourist area at Jonker Street.

That part of Melaka is a picturesque enough place, with a lot of multi-coloured buildings dating back to when the Portuguese were running the show. Jonker Street was busy, mainly with coachloads of Chinese tourists who all seemed determined to eat in the same café. Whilst the main street was bustling, all you had to do for some peace and quiet was to make your way one street back and if it wasn’t for the noise in the background you wouldn’t know that there was anyone around.


It was a fair drive to the Hang Jebat Stadium on the outskirts of the city and as we had plenty of time in hand I called into a barbers. He did a decent job with the haircut before getting carried away with a head massage. I’m not sure heads ever need massaging and I’m certain that they don’t need the sort of massage that consists of violent slaps. As the barber had access to a cut-throat razor I just smiled politely as my brain rattled around in its cerebrospinal fluid.

We arrived at the Hang Jebat Stadium to find that it was as quiet as the areas off Jonker Street and it was apparent that the U21 Nations Cup hadn’t captured the public’s imagination. Cant see why, surely a double header featuring the youngsters from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore was just the way to spend a Sunday evening?

I suppose it’s possible that everyone was staying away until the later game featuring the host country, but as we waited outside until ten minutes before kick-off in the first match it looked as if the crowd for the first game of the day might not reach double figures.


We bought the posh twenty ringgit tickets that entitled us to a seat in the main stand and were quite a good deal at three quid, especially when you consider that we could have stayed for the second game too.

We also bought a yellow and black stripey Malaysia shirt for our grandson, Harry. It was less than a couple of quid, which is roughly the amount of change that you get from forty pounds when buying a Boro shirt  for a five-year old at the Riverside Stadium shop.

The ticket temporarily seemed less of a bargain when the stewards directed us into the section of open terracing behind the goal, but we eventually ended up in the upper tier of the main stand where we were able to find some shade.


As the game kicked-off the crowd had swelled to about thirty, with just a couple of other people sharing our section. As the stadium has a capacity of over forty thousand that left plenty of room for stretching out.

Vietnam were in red, with Singapore in blue. Not a lot happened for most of the first half and whilst I like to think that I can appreciate teams keeping possession, it was all a bit tippy-tappy.


Singapore took the lead just before half-time when a cross from the right was headed home from close range. There were some muted cheers from the section below us, suggesting that there might be some fans from Singapore in the ground. Although it’s probably more likely that it was one of the forty or so photographers and cameramen in attendance, grateful for something worth capturing.

When you added in the presence of the riot police, it did seem as if somebody, somewhere, had thought the Nations Cup to be an event that might just have been more popular than it turned out to be.


Singapore increased their lead five minutes into the second half when a bit of skullduggery in a crowded box led to a penalty. It was slammed into the roof of the net, prompting  some chants of “Singer-pore, Singer-pore” from what sounded like six-year-old kids in the tier below.

Vietnam had a player who didn’t look much older than those fans. Maybe their kitman should have scoured the stalls outside for a two quid knock-off kit in the right size.


A few minutes later we had a penalty at the other end and Vietnam pulled a goal back. This signaled the start of some impressive play-acting from Singapore to try to run down the clock. If ever there was an opportunity for the riot police to use their water cannon, then this was it.

It looked as though the time-wasting had been successful as Singapore were still in front as we started to make our way out on ninety minutes. I heard the shouts from the players and looked back to see Vietnam celebrating their equaliser.


I wasn’t sure if they would play extra time or go straight to penalties, but either way I needed to be making tracks up the road. It’s busy on a Sunday evening, with people returning to Kuala Lumpur. I checked later and it turned out that the game went straight to penalties, although I can’t remember who won. Nor I suspect will anyone else.