Paris, Bloody Paris, why is it always in Paris!

Paris – Wednesday March 26th March 2008

Late in 2007 the FA announced that England would play a friendly against one of the qualifiers of Euro2008. They had announced a game already in November against the old enemy, Germany, and having played Netherlands just a year previously it was a toss up as to whether it would be the Czech Republic in Prague, Italy in Rome or perhaps Sweden in Gothenburg. A couple of options it wasn’t gonna be was Russia, Croatia, Turkey or Romania..which of course basically left France. And so with a great fanfare they announced a friendly against them…typical! Well at least they could play somewhere different. Toulouse maybe, Lyon would be nice and of course there was always the Velodrome in Marseille. But no, it had to be Paris, bloody Paris.

In the past six months I had been to the Stade de France on four occasions. Granted they were to see rugby matches, and granted I had only seen one football match in stadium before (France v Romania in March 2002), but Paris again? But in my quest to get as many caps under my bet as possible it was never going to be a game I was going to miss. I have always publically stated how I hate Paris. A year of working in the city is enough to show the real Paris behind the tourist facade, and it not beautiful, its not chic and its not cultured. It is full of rude people who have no idea of fashion or work ethics. So the temptation to spend more than an hour in the city was not appealing to me so I planned a very quick trip. I managed to get a crossing via Eurotunnel for 2pm, returning at 2am meaning I could take a half day off work. I then started filling the car with willing passengers. Surprisingly I had no problems filling the car for this short journey. The original plan was for Red Rob, his mate Jonno, Knighty from work, Karl the Yid and CMF. With six in the car the cost of the trip including the ticket would be less than £50 which was acceptable even for such a shit place.

The talk leading up to the game was whether Fabio Capello in only his 2nd game in charge would grant Beckham his 100th cap. The big surprise though was that somehow Robert Green had been called into the squad for the first time in 9 months. Green is recognised by most who watch the Premier League on a regular basis as the most consistent English goalkeeper, yet in that 9 month period he has been overlooked in favour of 37year old David James, Paul Robinson, Ben Foster (still to play a game in the Premier League) and Scott Carson (He would be overlooked later in the year by Joe Hart and Peterborough’s 19year old keeper Joe Lewis).

Due to childcare issues CMF was unable to attend, and so the five of us left SE9 at lunchtime. The forum was already full of stories about ridiculously priced beer in Paris, people being mugged and absolutely no atmosphere. There had been a big fan party arranged, in an Irish Bar of course and it seemed that people were complaining that it could have been anywhere in the world – doh you think so? I find it so ironic that when these groups of mindless fans get together abroad they always head for an Irish Bar, drink Guinness and sing “No Surrender to the IRA”.

The journey was textbook. With little traffic on the motorway down to Paris we covered the 200 or so miles in less than 3 hours and arrived at the stadium 3 hours before kick off. I had pre-booked parking at the stadium via Francebillet.com. However, it appeared that I needed to pick up my ticket from the “shop”. What shop,where did it say that ? Nothing in this crap country is straight forward. Why couldn’t I print out the ticket online? Too simple and straightforward. A kindly man (must have been a Belgian) took pity on us and gave us a spare ticket and we parked underneath the stadium. The area around the stadium is filled with temporary bars on a match day, and whilst many England fans had booked up the hotel chains around this area, it still wasn’t too busy as the majority of fans had not yet left the city centre.

We headed into a restaurant to have some food and a couple of beers. With an hour to kick off we headed inside. I had only seen the stadium from the upper tiers and the press area and could not believe how much of a dump the lower tiers were. Toilets overflowed with urine, rubbish was piled up everywhere and there was virtually nowhere to eat or drink.

The teams were announced and Beckham was in. Ferdinand was named captain in the latest idea of the Italian to rotate the armband, and the rest of the team almost picked itself. David James was in goal, and I had bad memories from the last time he kept goal against France, in Euro2004 in Lisbon when he brought down Henry in the last minute to hand victory to the French. And sure enough, history repeated itself in this game as James brought down Anelka and Frank Ribery slotted away the spot kick.

Despite the likes of Rooney, Gerrard, Barry and Joe Cole occupying the midfield England did not create one change in the first hour, and it took the introduction of Bentley, Crouch and Owen to spark them into life. However,with the 4,500 England fans counting down the minutes until they could get back into the bars it was no surprise that the players were as lethargic as the supporters. It appeared that no one wanted to really be there, but some of the behaviour of the England fans was appalling. Some felt it acceptable to abuse fellow fans who wanted to sit down, or those who didn’t want to sing or chant. So what is the issue with this? Some of these moronic fans would be the ones who feel that “No Surrender” is still the anthem of the England team, and that abusing foreign players because they are not English is acceptable. And of course our FA, who are completely blameless in this all. They can see from some of the posts on the forum the racist and xenophobic nature of certain individuals yet they decide to ignore these individuals but instead warn those who offer to swap tickets for the likes of Euro2008. Of course they are not only interested in the money the “idiot” element provide – they have the interests of the game at heart really.

The game ended on a whimper and we headed back to the car and the inevitable queues to get out of the stadium. Our timescales were tight. We had 3 hours to get back to Sandgatte and the traffic jams were not helping. Eventually we made it onto the motorway and put our fate into the hands of the TomTom satnav that took us in completely the wrong direction, then told us to turn around and lead us straight back into the traffic jam at the stadium. Time was ticking and it called for drastic action. Bribery……We needed to turn left, a policeman was directing all traffic right so we bribed him with a €5 note and he turned a blind eye and we were back where we started some 30 minutes previous. 205 miles in just under 2 hours proved quite a challenge. Not only was I a bit tired (after all it was now after midnight) but the French toll system meant that speeding was difficult as the toll booths work out your average speed and alert the authorities if this was excessive. So it was a balancing act in speeding on the non-toll areas. We made the crossing with 10 minutes to spare, and through a bit of luck actually boarded the Eurotunnel train first in the top row,meaning that when we disembarked some 35 minutes later we had officially become the first England fans back in England who had been to the game (probably), After a few drop off points on the way home I entered the bed of CMF at 4.35am. Was it worth it? No for the football, no for the travel and no for the time wasted but it had been an enjoyable afternoon and evening of football banter. One thing was certain though – England had missed out on Euro2008 on merit based on this performance. With almost a first team out from the 1st minute they had failed to create one single chance against one of the oldest defences to have qualified for the European Championships, and with no Plan B Capello will struggle to achieve anything with this group of players. Still, only 10 years to 2018!

About the Stade de France
In 1992 FIFA announced that France would host the 1998 World Cup Finals. One of the conditions of awarding them the finals was the provision of a stadium that could hold more than 70,000 fans. With only Marseille’s Stade Velodrome anywhere near this, and the fact that it was almost unheard of for a capital city not to host a World Cup Final (only Washington DC in modern times have not hosted the final after being awarded the competition), work started almost immediately on finding a site to build a state of the art venue. Once a site had been located in the north of the city, and funding put in place, construction started in 1995. What was unique about this project was the amount of resource allocated to the construction which meant that less than two years later, the stadium was ready and in use.

The stadium has a number of unique features such as the roof that appears to float above the stands – it is actually 42metres above the playing surface and gives complete cover from the elements to the 80,000 spectators. The lower tier is built in such as way that 25,000 seats can slide back into the middle tier allowing events such as speedway and athletics to take place without compromising the views for football and rugby. The stadium is one of the best in the world in terms of spectator facilities and the sightlines are excellent.

Paris Saint-Germain were given the opportunity to move here, but decided to stay in the south west of the city. For a few games Red Star Paris played here and actually attracted a crowd of over 45,000 for a league game versus St Etienne in 1999. The stadium also hosts the annual Rugby game between Stade Francais and Toulouse, which is normally sold out.

The stadium not only hosted the famous World Cup Final between France and Brazil in 1998, but has also hosted the majority of the French football and rugby national games since opening.

It has also hosted two Champions League finals – firstly in 2000 when Real Madrid beat Valencia, and in 2006 when Barcelona beat Arsenal. It will also host the final of the Rugby World Cup in October 2007. The stadium offers daily tours for €10 including two per day in English at 10.30am and 2.30pm.

Who plays there?
The Stade de France is home to the French National football and rugby teams, and is not used on a regular basis. It also plays host to the two French cup finals in April and May respectively.

How to get there
The stadium is located in the Saint Denis area just north of the inner ring road, and almost adjacent to the A1 motorway that runs up towards Calais. It is very well served by public transport with the authorities deciding to build access points at either end of the stadium – a fact that the planners of Wembley Stadium have overlooked. RER station Stade de France-St Denis is on the Green line that passes through city from Creteil in the south, whilst RER station Le Plaine-Stade de France links Paris CDG airport in the north with Orly airport in the south on the Blue Line B. Both stations are one stop from Gare du Nord and the journey time is about 7 minutes. Metro line 13 also serves the stadium through the stop at St Denis-Porte de Paris.

If you want to travel by bus to the stadium then use lines 139 from Porte de la Villette or 173 from Porte de Clichy. A taxi from the centre of the city will cost around €20.

Getting a ticket
Depending on what the event is will depend on the ease of getting a ticket for the stadium. Most French Rugby internationals are sold out and tickets never go on general sale. Tickets for the French League and Cup Finals go on sale around 4 weeks before the events via http://www.ticketclic.fr. They also sell tickets for the French Football team internationals and it can be possible to get these within a day or so of the game.

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