Clive Hayward – @Byehorse
Is it coming home?
I think it might be, but then again, I thought Torquay were winning the league.
I tell you what though, sometimes you need to go out and get it for yourself. Although unlike some Yellows I haven’t done the hard yards to Kazakhstan or Manaus, some of the most fun I’ve had watching football is at the Euros, where I ventured in 2000, 2004 and most recently 2016.
I had to talk The Mechanic into this one, but it was a lot of fun. All I had previously seen of France was rainy Dunkirk and a loved-up weekend in Paris with my fiancée, but I fancied a bit of sunshine so applied for several matches in Toulouse and Bordeaux. The UEFA website coughed up exactly one pair of tickets, but as group stage games go Spain v Croatia in Bordeaux looked pretty hot.
The journey down was fun. Mostly.
Overnight in London for an early Monday morning Eurostar to damp & rainy Paris. With a couple of hours free we hit the Metro and took a peek at Notre Dame before it got the Dave Webb treatment. We also practiced our language skills to procure some coffee and pains au chocolate for the train. The ticketing system was interesting. Each seat appeared to have two separate numbers, and thus two claimants. Our carriage was packed: fully Sergio Ramos-ed. There was a certain amount of gesturing, pointing and bad tempered rearranging before I found myself sweating in a seat next to a middle aged French lady on the way south to see her dying father. The three hour, one stop (Poitiers) journey swept through hundreds of miles of unremarkable countryside at great speed and as the sun appeared the temperature rose quickly with every passing kilometre.
By the time we emerged blinking into the Bordeaux sunlight in mid afternoon it was hot and humid, and to be frank the half-mile walk to the hotel nearly finished us off. Recovery was rapid, however, aided by a tram ride over the river into town, some damn good spaghetti and a first appreciation of what a fine city we had arrived in. The waterfront along the mighty Gironde is gorgeous: Totnes on steroids.
I really enjoyed this trip, because unlike our previous sojourns we had a couple of days to explore the city properly. Here is a little travel tip: when you visit a city for the first time, take the bus tour. York, Chester, Brighton, Bordeaux: it works like a dream. I think Bordeaux is a bit underrated. Certainly it was looking its best for us. Great art galleries, that fantastic riverfront, eateries aplenty and trams (I love trams!).
On the second evening we found ourselves a bar to watch England’s instantly-forgettable 0-0 draw with Slovakia. What the football lacked, the cheap and plentiful Kronenbourg made up for. If it’s not in a plastic glass, outdoors in a hastily improvised outdoor area with naff canopies it’s not really the Euros.
In many ways the stadium at Bordeaux is typical of what you often see in finals tournaments. It was brand new, shiny and perhaps not destined to be filled every week. Wales had played there a few days earlier, but it had been deep cleaned and still had that lovely new look, feel and smell. We had just about the best seats in the house, and although Spain’s support (only 130 miles from the border) was underwhelming the Croats were out in force. They are an impressive lot: hard as nails, noisy and no strangers to the smoke bomb. Spain did what Spain do. Passing it about, annoyingly good but uninspiring (sorry to any tika-taka fans out there: it just doesn’t float my bateau). Spain scored, and were then awarded a disgraceful penalty. The keeper pulled out a great save though, and the checkerboard army grew into the game, equalising through Kallinic on the stroke of half time. To our delight, super Ivan Perisic smacked in a late winner and no amount of East European B.O. on the tram home could spoil the mood.
Our leisurely city break continued the following day with what can only be described as a booze cruise. Classy though. In 33 degrees of blinding French sunshine we met the lovely Marie, our guide for a bus trip through the vineyards to Blaye. It’s a little village about 20 miles down the river. A UNESCO site, in fact. Like many of these places, all you can see today is a few old walls and a café, but it was a Roman settlement back in the days when Aaron Downes was chasing baby ‘roos around his parents’ paddock. When I say “river” I am referring to what had become a spectacular estuary born of the confluence of the mighty rivers Gironde and Dordogne a few miles upstream. This is a serious stretch of water, something like 3 miles wide. Apparently it was too far to fire a cannon all the way across in Napoleonic times, so the French craftily stuck a few guns on the island halfway across, thus making Bordeaux a lot safer from the Royal Navy. In World War Two, we craftily circumvented the German defences by using mini submarines, pootling past underwater & sinking a good few ships with magnetic mines, as commemorated in the film “Cockleshell Heroes”. We wandered onto the waiting boat and Mademoiselle Marie was good enough to Take us Up the Garonne in some style, on a wine tasting trip back up to Bordeaux.
We had a look around the “Cite du Vin”, a new global wine museum, the following morning and then it was time to go home. You hear some awful stories about EasyJet, but as far as I’m concerned £40 on a Thursday afternoon to get us back to Bristol in an hour was a deal almost as good as getting Rodney Jack on a free from Lambada.
Ah, now. This was a bit of a weird one. It all started one evening in Harborne in the previous millennium.
In those days The Mechanic and I were in the habit of driving up to Birmingham on a Friday to stay overnight with our friend Huw, who had a flat in Birmingham. On the Saturday we would go and watch Torquay lose before returning to The Harborne Ale House to drown our sorrows. On the Sunday morning we would often go for monumental fry-ups at the Selly Sausage, a café so greasy that John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John would often pop in.
I digress. Basically, we had all had a few, and decided to apply for a boat-load of tickets for Euro 2000 the following summer in Belgium and the Netherlands. Roy and Huw went all-in, basically applying for everything. I was slightly more circumspect, opting to get games in the first week. Huw sent the application forms off, and we thought little more about it.
It would have been about March 2000, on a Friday lunchtime just after payday when I went to Nat West to draw out some money for the weekend. “Insufficient funds”. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t been overdrawn for 10 years and I was baffled. Eventually the penny dropped. I had done £900 overnight on Euros tickets! The paperwork arrived shortly afterwards, and I found myself the proud owner of 8 pairs of tickets for group games in both countries!
Bleddy hell: what am I going to do? Step one, tell the missus. That went ok, even when we worked out that I would be leaving on my son’s first birthday. (Sorry Matty- but obviously you understand now!). Step two. Speculative, but successful. Could I persuade my brother to come with me, to keep the costs down a bit? Hell yeah! He went for it, and so we found ourselves driving to Dover on a bright Sunday morning with a tent, camping stove and several tins of Sainsbury’s all day breakfast in the boot of Ian’s car.
What a day that was! By the mediums of phone and fax machine I had booked us into a camp site in the Bruges suburbs. We rocked up at about 3pm. I was carrying a couple of tickets for Belgium v Sweden that evening, but it was being played in Brussels and we hadn’t expected that we would have time to get there. A quick conversation at Reception encouraged us though, and we pegged it into the city centre to get the train. A couple of foamy street bar lagers later we were in the King Badouin Stadium (Heysel in darker times) for launch night. It turned out that Belgium really weren’t very good, but after an hilarious opening ceremony they saw off a similarly mediocre Sweden (2-1), and the locals loved every minute. We didn’t get back to Bruges until after midnight, but found a friendly taxi and arrived back chez canvas feeling tired but oddly thirsty. You can’t quite imagine a late bar at Woodlands can you, but in Belgium they do things differently, certainly during a big football tournament. The campsite had a healthy Danish contingent, and a party was in full swing. My abiding memory of the whole trip was at 3.30am when the barman clapped his hands for silence and solemnly announced that he was definitely closing up at 4 o’clock!
7 more games in 7 days was what awaited us. A bit daft really but I was younger then, and we threw ourselves into it.
Sunday- Still in Bruges. Met up with Roy & Huw at the railway station, where I had rabbit & prunes for lunch! The Danes were in town to watch Kasper Schmeichel’s dad play against France. It didn’t go well. Golly, France were good. Thierry Henri is the quickest player I have ever seen in the flesh (yes, I reckon he would pip Rodney over 40 yards), and he destroyed the Vikings. Three nil. Allez les Blues.
Monday- moving day. A drive across the Dutch border to the green, pleasant but essentially dull city of Eindhoven. I cannot, for the life of me, remember how I had found out about this but I had booked us into an ice rink for two nights. Sweden fans are to blame. The ice had been removed, or melted, or covered over or something and the place had been rebranded as “Svenska Huset” for the week. Which was lucky, as we were able to shift some unwanted Sweden v Turkey tickets. We were there to see Kevin Keegan’s dinosaurs take on the Golden Generation from Portugal. We found ourselves in padded seats in the front row at the magnificent Philips Stadion, and England started like a train. It was the first time I’d ever been to an England game and we were 2-0 up after 18 minutes (Scholes, McManaman). Here’s the thing though. They had Luis Figo and talent to burn. It was 2-2 by half time and, outclassed, we eventually succumbed 3-2. When we got back to the ice rink there was, thankfully, a Swedish House Mafia party in full swing. The rest of the evening featured singing, Carlsberg, soft drugs in teabags (??), hugs and a lovely kip in someone else’s (unattended) bed.
Tuesday- The day started really well, when I retrieved my glasses after half an hour’s frantic search. We got a train up north to Rotterdam for Norway v Spain. Queuing up to get into De Kuip, we greatly enjoyed songs alternatively feting and deprecating Ole Solsjaer. It was “fuck Alan Shearer” v “Ole Solksjar is a paedophile”. Fun. I fell asleep in the second half. Norway knew what they were about, and never looked like losing after they took Spain by surprise with a headed goal in the first half. We walked back in to town and ate chicken satay. Rotterdam has some striking modern architecture and is a place I’d love to return to for a proper look around- perhaps for the North Sea Jazz Festival.
Wednesday- Groundhog Day. Back to Bruges and the campsite. Back on the train to Brussels. Back to Heysel. Italy v Turkey. A game I remember best for some funny yet distinctively un-PC chants from the Turks to the tune of “Martin Gritton is a Yellow Goal Machine”. “Italia are homosexual, homosexual, homosexual”. It did them no harm though. They won. We left early. We were knackered and needed a break.
Thursday- Ian stayed in his sleeping bag. I got a bus out of Bruges to a pretty little village and had a lovely walk up a canal. Sandwich, bottle of water and Test Match Special (god bless Radio Four longwave) on the radio. Batteries recharged. Got chatting over a glass of wine with a couple of pretty young French girls at the campsite. We behaved.
Friday- Bruges again. France again. The Czech Republic were today’s sacrificial lambs and les Blues duly obliged. The two girls from the campsite must have loved it, but we went on the piss after the game and I expect they made their own entertainment.
Saturday- You need one or two days like this in your life. Not too many though. We had saved until last what- for us- was the biggest game of the lot. Charleroi. England v Germany. Oh my goodness. We were greeted like old friends on the commute to Brussels. We has a fair old fistful of Belgian Francs having exchanged our Norwegian Krone. We had a luxurious lunch: lobster, more fabulous seafood and a couple of insanely strong local beers. We got the train down to Charleroi, in the company of some day-tripping England fans who frankly scared the shit out of us.
Charleroi is an old mining town in the French speaking part of Belgium. Most of these places nowadays have undergone some sort of renovation. A post industrial renaissance. Somewhere like Sheffield now looks bright & modern. Not Charleroi, I’m sorry to say. It was like Wakefield in 1975. Rough as arseholes. The influx of English nutters had done nothing to lighten the mood and on arrival the general atmosphere was that of a warzone. We ducked into a quiet backstreet pub for a couple of foamy liveners. The locals were friendly, although we spent 10 minutes in the company of a pensioner who as far as we could make out was a veteran of the Algerian wars. His repartee consisted chiefly of cutthroat gestures accompanying bloodcurdling tales of “Les Algeries, Les Tunisies”. Alf Garnett would have loved a chat with him, I’m sure.
Anyway, we got into the ground. A magnificent atmosphere. The Germans, as ever, were there in force, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be as crap as their recent results had suggested. We were in a stand so steep that ropes and crampons were advised. We were vertically above the touchline 150 feet up, and I swear the place swayed every time we sang- which was all game. For those too young to remember, a forgettable match was settled by a stooping SHEARER header, and I swear I have never celebrated such an ultimately meaningless goal so hard.
All we had to do now was to get out of Belgium alive. We heard gunshots on the way to the station. We arrived to be greeted by two rows of out of town & seriously pissed off coppers. Station closed. “You go that way” were the most polite directions available. The Belgian authorities had decided that we needed teaching a lesson, and thus we were squeezed into a different terminus and onto what can only be described as Dart Valley Railway- standard rolling stock. Unhappily. Bruges is on the same line as Ostend, so we found ourselves wedged in with some intellectually- challenged but highly dangerous Nottingham Forest fans for the journey back. Eye contact was a seriously bad idea, and these were the longest 2 hours of my life.
Sunday- Back to Blighty on the Ostend ferry. A couple of Hoegarten and a sunbathe.
This was an altogether more comfortable affair. Nice hotels and brushes with greatness.
It was me & Roy for this one, Huw having emigrated with a feasible plan to “Drink Canada Dry”. We flew from Heathrow, having spotted “that bloke from New Tricks who is a Wimbledon fan” at the airport (Alun Armstrong!).
Changing planes at Madrid, (as you do) we arrive in Lisbon in plenty of time to see:
England v France: we played really well that night in the Stadium of Light in a game we started as distant second favourites. We were winning until injury time. Terry & King had been immense at the back, and the experience had been all the sweeter for siting surrounded by French fans. But we were undone by Zinedine Zidane in injury time. A penalty and a free kick from him saved the day for the defending champions.
Sweden v Bulgaria: If there’s been a better pairing than Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in international football, I’d love to have seen it. Our second night in Portugal took us to the Jose Alvalade stadium, the home of Sporting Lisbon. It’s a lovely setting. Yellow & green seats and a good atmosphere. Sweden destroyed Bulgaria; it was 5-0 but it could easily have been double figures.
Time to head up north. A spotless air-conditioned train took us to Porto, which was to be our base for 4 nights. The city is most famous, of course for port. We went to a lodge, bought a couple of nice bottles and there is no denying that it’s lovely stuff. But if there is any justice in this world, what Porto should be best known for is its salted cod stews. My goodness they are nice, particularly when you’re dehydrated at the end of a long day in the sun. I think the recipe is pretty basic. Bung some of the fish in a pan with some sliced spuds, cook it for a bit & whack it into a bowl. It is, as my old man would have said, bloody ansome. Anyway:
Greece v Spain- As we all know, Greece pulled off the greatest shock of all time by eventually winning the whole thing, but in their first game they were given no chance against an emerging Spain team close to home soil with huge support including their actual monarch. The Greeks sent the king home disappointed with a second half equaliser: 1-1.
I had been a bit slow in booking the accommodation for this trip and all I could find in Porto was the very splendid Hotel Ipanema de Porto. It didn’t actually break the bank but being a 5 star hotel it turned out to be where most of the broadcasters were staying. On the first morning, we heard a bloke at the next breakfast table who sounded a lot like Alan Green talking to (or at) a ginger fella with a touch of Gordon Strachan about him. In the bar that evening, we had the honour of chatting all things Torquay to the one and only Chris Waddle (who bought me a pint) and to the incomparable Jimmy Armfield, who was lovely but wouldn’t let me buy him one. As if this wasn’t enough, we also found ourselves in a lift with Alan Curbishley.
After the first day, we had daily trips to relatively nearby towns, namely:
Aveiro- for Czech Republic v Latvia, where Gary Johnson’s former protegees took the lead but were beaten 2-1. I had had to look Aveiro up in my guidebook. Coastal, on a lagoon. Not a lot happening. The ground was brand new, and I feel sure that the seat I sat in hasn’t been used in 17 years. This was truly a white elephant: half full at best and with a tiny club forced to be its tenants. We failed to find a bus back to the town centre and had to walk 5 miles back. Seldom have I ever needed a pee as badly. A forgettable day!
Coimbra- for England 3 Switzerland 0. Mixed feelings about this one. England were superb on the day, with teenage wonderkid Wayne Rooney unplayable upfront with Michael Owen. Sad to say, however, that the locals were absolutely shitting themselves at the arrival of England fans. We saw no trouble (other than a local lad getting chased, caught & clipped around the ear for pickpocketing), but when we went into a little grocers to buy some fruit and a couple of cans the old boy behind the counter looked like he’d seen a ghost.
Braga- Denmark 2 Bulgaria 0- you’ll have seen this ground on TV: it only has 2 sides having been built into a steep canyon. The stadium was mercifully a lot closer to the station than Aveiro and we watched a very average Danish team despatch a frankly abysmal Bulgaria.
Porto- Germany 0 Latvia 0. Our second game at “Bessa”, the home of Boavista, was best remembered for an underwhelming but nevertheless deeply satisfying rear-guard action to frustrate Germany and das wonderkid Bastian Schweinsteiger. My, how we laughed as the purple-clad Baltic State put up a much better defence than the last time they had ben attacked by the Germans.
Having been everywhere of note in the top half of Portugal, we returned to Lisbon. If we had been prepared to give a tout 400 Euros we could have got in to see Portugal play Spain, but we opted for the obligatory outdoor café, omelettes, several bottles of wine and a big screen as the hosts deservedly beat their bigger neighbours to set up what should have been a tournament win. The Greeks, of course, had other ideas.
I finished the night in a massive Holland hat trying my best to get on Norwegian TV.
I am 100% going to return to Portugal. The people are friendly, the sun always shines and Aveiro is probably best avoided!
COYY – Clive
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