Young Turks bounce the Czechs


My original ticket application for the European Championships was divided into two distinct trips that would essentially have taken in a game in every venue, working my way up the country with a small break in the middle. Five years ago, whilst travelling between Trnava in Slovakia and Budapest, the idea of touring France had first been discussed. During the course if the evening we’d decided to buy an old London double-decker bus, do it up with sleeping quarters upstairs and a bar downstairs. What more could we want.

There were a couple of stumbling blocks. First there was the small matter of finding £30,000 for a bus. Surely a company out there would want to sponsor us? A brewery for instance? I’m sure that Meantime and Fullers will one day answer but it’s a big too late. Then there was the issue of driving. It was great that Danny, Deaksy and Stoffers contributed to the idea but none of them could contribute to the actual driving. I didn’t really want to be the Reg Vardy of the group if truth be told. Finally, there was the issue of trying to get tickets for the games we wanted.

When the original ticket allocations were announced our hopes of a Summer Holiday were dashed. Two tickets for two games over a week apart at opposite ends of the country put pay to our great ideas.

So after the trip to the chic and sunny Riviera I was now heading to the gloomy coal fields of Pas-des-Calais swapping the Promenade des Anglais for the slag heaps of Lens, with the ginger bearded wonder James Boyes at my side.

27215898903_8900ba26c3_kDespite the industrial hinterland, for football lovers you can’t go wrong with a visit to Lens. There’s no surprise that the town, where the whole population could fit into the football ground and still have a few spares, is a favourite when tournaments come a-knocking. And not just football either – the Stade Bollaert-Delelis has hosted games in the Rugby World Cup (twice) too. It is one of the most atmospheric grounds in France, built in a style not too dissimilar to Villa Park or a slim-downed St James’ Park (Newcastle United not Exeter City), which rocks on a match day.

27827478225_89d987786c_kA few years ago I read a story about the number of English-based fans who had season tickets for RC Lens. Fed up of the spiralling cost of tickets for the sanitised Premier and Football League games, groups of fans realised that it was cheaper and in some cases, quicker to head across the Channel and watch their football. From leaving TBIR Towers the 116 mile drive took around 3 hours including the time on Eurotunnel and cost less than £80. Add in a season ticket in the Delacourt Stand behind the goal at a ridiculous €125 for the 19 league games and you have a great day out.

The ground is not only really easy to find but also has plenty of street parking within a ten minute walk. We dropped the car off and headed into the town centre to find a spot to watch whether Northern Ireland could upset the odds and get a result from their game against Germany. There aren’t many drinking options in Lens and even less that had a TV so we attempted to go into the Fanzone.

If you want evidence that the pen is mightier than a sword then go and visit the UEFA Fanzone in Lens. Anyone trying to enter the area with such offence weapons as a pen, an iPad mini or even a keyfob with a badge on will be denied entry. Six foot flag pole? Come on in sir! Of course, I may have been singled out by a West Ham (key fob), technophobe who favoured the quill but I doubt it. I was denied entry, much to the amusement of James, and the chap who managed to sneak in a pack of beers whilst the stewards attention was drawn to my pen. Another example of the head-scratching, juxtaposing, randomness of everyday life in France.

27793098506_aa7c1942f5_kFortunately we found a bar that had converted it’s back yard into a “stadium”, as the signs read. The rows of plastic chairs were hardly The Emirates but it did the job and provided shelter from the impending doom that the dark clouds overhead were threatening before we headed to the stadium. Both sets of fans mingled without any sign of any problems whilst hundreds of individuals lined the route back to the stadium trying to sell spare tickets – it was certainly a buyers market with some fans who were prepared to hold their nerve being able to pick up a bargain as kick off approached. Once again, entry into the ground was swift with little regard paid to the contents of my bag (the lethal pen, mini iPad and key fob) or any checks on whether I was the named individual on the ticket (I was).

The two sets of fans were giving it their all in the build up to kick off. Both could still progress even though they only had one point between them such was the complexity and confused caused by the third place situation with a win, although based on their poor showing in their opening two games the odds were stacked against the Turks. But perhaps their fans could lift them at the eleventh hour and give them a chance of a few more days in the competition?

Czech Republic 0 Turkey 2 – Stade Bollaert-Delelis – Tuesday 21st June 2016
It wasn’t just the Turks who were dancing in the streets of Lens at the full-time whistle. The two-nil win meant that Northern Ireland would also progress to the second round joining the Turks who simply blew the Czech Republic away in a performance that was up there with the best in the tournament.

27215895593_587672d0bf_kIt took just ten minutes for the Turks to take the lead. The impressive Arda Turan played in young full-debutant Emre Mor down the right and his perfect cross was met at the near post by Burak Yilmaz to fire home, giving Petr Cech no chance. The celebrations both on and off the pitch were fuelled as much by relief as delight – the Turks had been disappointing up until this point on the tournament.

The Czechs immediately responded. Tomas Sivok powered a header from a corner against the base of the post, full-back Pavel Kadeřábek wasted a couple of good chances and Jaroslav Plašil seeing a vicious long-ranger tipped over the bar. But they were ultimately undone by a second goal from Turkey scored in the Ozan Tufan in the 65th minute, smashing the ball home after the Czechs couldn’t clear their lines.

The Turkish fans at the far end responded by lighting flares. Not just one but at one point we counted eleven. A number of Turkish players ran to the crowd to plead with the fans but they needn’t have worried – UEFA appear to have turned a blind eye to the incident despite once again it underlined the appalling lax security on getting into the ground. I’m sure if the incident was reported it would have been blamed in England fans.

27215917043_dcf391b7cb_kThe atmosphere for the whole games was up there with the best I’ve experienced. Two hours of intense noise. I had to drag James away at the end – being a Man United fan he’s not used to an atmosphere. Seventy five minutes after leaving the ground we arrived at the terminal at Calais.

“Where have you been lads?” Asked the UK Border Guard.

“Footballing heaven”…..

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Teargas and tantrums in the South of France


There’s nothing unusual about stories of strikes affecting public services and transportation in France. As far back as I care to remember there’s been stories of blockades at ports or flight delays caused by air traffic control strikes. In some ways it’s no different to what we experience on a weekly basis in the United Kingdom and being very British we may moan about it whilst simply struggling on. However, I’d like to think if we were hosting a major sporting event that meant the focus of international media was on our nation wed put our differences aside for the duration. Certainly during the Olympics, nothing was allowed to interfere with the smooth operation of the event as demonstrated by the deployment of the military to run security when it was felt the private contractor wasn’t up to scratch.

But it seems the start of the European Championships in France has simply added fuel to the already considerable flames of unrest in the country. Last night’s opening game between the hosts and Romania at Stade de France was played out with news of strikes by train drivers on the routes that served the stadium in St Denis, whilst a national strike by refuse collectors had left piles of rubbish building up in the city. A proposed strike by Air France pilots had meant last-minute changes to the travel plans of thousands of fans. Hardly the most auspicious of welcomes for the travelling nations.

The tournament would take place surrounded by unprecedented levels of security after recent terrorist actions and threats. The last thing the security forces would need is large groups of fans not being able to travel around the country and being stuck in one place, especially when the volatile mixture of sunshine and beer is taken into account. Welcome to Marseille.

Our trip had been well over a year in the planning. We’d applied for tickets and booked flights and hotels long before the draw had taken place. Safe in the knowledge that we had secure seats for a weekend in the South of France we watched the draw live on TV hoping that we wouldn’t be seeing England in Marseille. That may seem unpatriotic but having followed The Three Lions across the world in the last twenty years there’s certain places that have the words “trouble” written all over them. Out of the ten venues being used for this tournament, the one venue that I’d imagine the authorities hoped England wouldn’t be visiting was Marseille.

A combination of the history of events here in the 1998 FIFA World Cup plus the tinderbox atmosphere of the different cultures of the city could lead to public order issues and sure enough 48 hours before the game England fans clashed with locals and riot police. Back in 1998 the words Social Media meant sharing a copy of The Sun in the office. Today social journalism means anyone with a smartphone can now be a front line reporter sending images and video across the world in seconds. This of course can be incredibly powerful but can also blow events out of proportion. The events in Marseille in the lead up to the game versus Russia were undoubtably disappointing but certainly not surprising. The fans who headed to the Old Port area on Thursday and Friday had one intention – to enjoy the sunshine and have a drink (and a sing-song). Alas, history shows that such revelry, whilst accepted back in the High Streets in England, isn’t so overseas. Whether the fans were provoked or goaded by locals is another story of course, but to be a considered a victim you need to be aware of putting yourself in positions of danger.

Journalist Ian Macintosh wrote an interesting piece about attitudes after getting caught up in the problems on Friday night. The attitude of a minority of the English fans, the actions of a minority of locals and the approach of the French riot police, which is very much about swift action to dispel and disable any threats – very different to the approach used by British police in trying to contain problems and slowly disperse the crowds.

Even though we’d got the game we probably didn’t want we’d still be heading for the impressive Stade Velodrome on Saturday night for the game. The format of the tournament meant that teams could be ultra defensive and still progress out of the group stages. That well-known football statistician Lee Dixon reminded us (three times) during the coverage of the opening game that there was an 87% chance that a team could progress if they drew all three group games. On the other hand a team who won that first game would have an 87% chance of progressing. Unfortunately Platini’s legacy to the championships was the most complicated knock-out stage qualification criteria. If he was so insistent on allowing just shy of 50% of UEFA Nations to qualify for the tournament then why not have 4 groups of 6 teams with the top four going into the next stage, or top 2 going directly into the quarter finals?

Saturday morning arrived and as we sat waiting to board our flight to Nice we heard on the grapevine (well from Fergie who was already in Nice) that our train back from Marseille on Sunday morning had already been cancelled due to strike action from the SNCF train drivers which was due to “only” impact one area of the country – in fact it wasn’t just our train impacted, it was every train from Marseille. Yep, the area where hundreds of thousands were heading for the England game on Saturday and Northern Ireland’s opening game with Poland in Nice on Sunday. It wasn’t just that route impacted with fans unable to find accommodation in Marseille seeing their trains out of the city post-match cancelled. You’d have thought that after all of the issues over the past three days the authorities may have done everything they could to move people away but there was simply an arrogant air of “it’s no my problem” when you tried to find out what was going on.

Keeping with the striking theme, there were no buses running from the airport to the station, nor had a couple of the earlier trains meaning that everyone had to cram onto the 13:50. First class reservation on earlier services? Tough. President Hollander came out with a statement last week saying, vowing to take on the strikers. Fortunately Danny found a seat next to two Russian fans who had a full litre of Jameson’s to drink on the journey – enough to go around and start the whisky giggles.

27363593010_905fe1f4dd_kOur hotel was essentially on the edge of the “danger zone”. Close enough to smell and taste the tear gas but far enough away not to have it in our faces. Soon enough we were hearing tales of fans being attacked from all angles whilst the police were simply over run, with their only response being tear gas and latterly the water cannon. Of course, as these events took place outside of the stadium UEFA can wash their hands of it and not fake any blame.

Despite all of the media, we actually found Marseille to be a decent place. We did come across one group of Russians who Danny thought he’d heard them say “we need to find someone to beat”, whereas I heard them say “we need to find something to eat”. We walked in the opposite direction just in case. Just five minutes walk uphill from our hotel was a beautiful tree-ringed square with about a dozen bars where we could sit and enjoy the sunshine. Every so often a familiar face would walk by and we would get the latest news from the grapevine, some complete with fresh war wounds.

We’d all been told security would be tight at the stadium so we headed to the ground in plenty of time. Dozens of ticket touts were selling right under the noses of the police without any fear of problems. Consequently there was no ID check – just a quick test to see if our ticket was genuine and then a brief pat down and we were in. The issues around such lax security would be seen in front of millions later in the game when the Russian fans set off fire-crackers and flares inside the ground.

Our seats were up in the Pyrenees but the hike was certainly worth it. You can not be impressed by the stadium. It’s huge with curves like Marilyn Monroe. The acoustics were superb and the atmosphere built quickly. As the game kicked off there wasn’t a hint of any problems. What was very noticeable was a) the thin line of stewards separating the Russian fans from the section of mixed fans and b) the hundreds, if not thousands of empty seats in the main stand, especially in the corporate areas.

In terms of the game I still don’t get the impression Hodgson knows his best XI. Sterling was wasteful in possession whilst Kane, our tallest attacking threat was still taking corners. We created little in the way of chances in the first hour, the only consolation being the Russians created even less. The goal from Dier was a well-worked free kick but we then simply lacked and creative spark to kill the game off, and were made to pay in the last-minute when the Russians equalised. The goal was the cue for madness – a single flare seemed to act as the signal for the fans to breach the feeble line of stewards and attack whoever was in their path.

27641555285_7729dfb44d_kWe took that as a sign to leave. Only one problem – the gates were locked. The first rule about any venue management is never lock the exits. The stewards tried to tell us to retrace our steps by going back up to the concourse (about four flights of steps) and go down a different way but with hundreds of fans coming down towards us that wasn’t an option. Eventually, a senior steward saw that the problem would soon escalate very quickly and frantically tried to open the gates, screaming into his radio that he needed help. Finally the gates opened and we quickly got onto the metro. The area around our hotel was shut – all the bars had their shutters down and who can blame them.

We headed to our room, flung open the shutters and enjoyed our bottles of red whilst taking in the taste and smell of tear gas wafting in from down below. French TV was in overdrive about the events with “hooligans” being the trending story, followed by the breaking news that despite playing for West Ham, Payet was a very good player indeed. The French TV blamed the English, the alcohol and the Russians but omitted the bit about locals being proactively involved too. The assertion that alcohol was a major factor, and perhaps that should be banned on match days completely missed the point, underlined by the Football Supporters Federation CEO, Kevin Miles, that the Russians who were involved in the trouble don’t drink and prepare fir months for such encounters.

It’s also true that some of the England fans involved were out of their depth, attending a major tournament fir the first time and thinking it would be like Green Street on Sea. Those who are aged 18-21 may have been attending a tournament for the first time – with Brazil being too far to go and being too young to attend before. So they only see in their head the romanticised “stand your ground and fight” notion and act accordingly. Alcohol will always be available even if the bars are shut. So what’s the answer? Pass but with Russia meeting Slovakia in Lille on Wednesday, just twenty-four hours before England meet Wales in next door Lens, the authorise have some quick thinking to do.

Sunday morning dawned and now we had the small issue of getting out of the city. Of course the train drivers had gone on strike meaning the first direct train to Nice would be at 12.31….with more and more fans arriving at the station to go their various ways and with no information being forthcoming the tension started to rise. All it needed was one person to say – fake this train then change at this place – and it would have been all ok. Fortunately most heard through the grapevine that the train was the 9.35am and the place to change was Toulon. The journey was far more comfortable than the one from yesterday with Poles and Northern Ireland fans mixing without any issue.

27542035602_b0bbd46b02_kNice was a million miles away from the atmosphere in Marseille. The pavement bars and cafes were full of fans eating and drinking, sharing jokes. There was no visible police or security and even when there was the potential for problems when the two sets of fans created a strand off in the main square, taking turns to try to ousting each other, there was no overtly over the top police presence. We headed to the beach with a bottle of wine (€1 cheaper than a can of beer) and two straws to enjoy the, “ahem”, scenery.

The Allianz Stadium, or Stade de Nice, to give it its tournament name is a fair way out of town…well, about 8 miles to be precise meaning that a bus was needed. Shuttle buses were laid on and dropped everyone at a point around 1.5 miles from the ground. The final part had to be done in foot…..along a brand new dual carriageway that was empty far the occasional VIP minibus passing by….no concessions had been made for fans with mobility issues – apparently, as they didn’t run any major ramp up events they couldn’t use the road – 5 stars for that one UEFA. Thirsty? No problems as once you reached the stadium you could spend €6.50 on a 0.5% pint of Carlsberg.

27363681150_a1cec05000_kNo complaints about the stadium itself. It’s well designed and access to all parts was easy. We did feel a little out-of-place not wearing green or white. The atmosphere was superb with both sets of fans singing their hearts out. No issues here with fans of opposite sides mingling. The game itself wasn’t the best with Poland easily the better side with the Irish appearing to freeze on the day. Full-back  Conor McLaughlin had a shocker, frequently out of position and conceding both possession and free kicks. The much-lauded Polish forward line looked lively but Lewondowski looked disinterested for long periods of time, acting as if he was above his team mates.

The goal was inevitable. The Poles possession built as the game went on and finally it paid off as the highly rated Milik struck in the 51st minute, his shot passing through a group of players, with McGovern in the Irish goal only able to get fingertips to the shot but not enough to divert it wide. The response from the Irish fans was to turn the noise up a notch but the team couldn’t match their enthusiasm. An opening game defeat is not the end of the world in this tournament – all eyes would now be on whether Germany could beat Ukraine.

We had hoped that they’d driven the buses up the empty road to load the fans but alas that wasn’t in the folder marked “sensible plans for Euro16”, so we walked back to the pick up point 30 minutes away. The process their wasn’t too bad as the walk meant fans had spaced out and we were in a bus and away within a minute.

Most bars had set up TVs outside so we had a top spot to enjoy the Germany game complete with a decent bottle of red and a pizza the size of Monaco. Again, fans mixed without any problems at all – Nice 1 Marseille 0.

So it had been an interesting trip – it’s fair to say armed with the knowledge of what might happen with regards to flashpoints and strikes nothing had been too surprising. Knowing where to not go was more important on Saturday and we sat in blissful ignorance (well apart from the constant Social Media updates!) enjoying the sunshine and the real Marseille. The trouble in the stadium on Saturday now means UEFA have to act rather than shrugging their shoulders and saying “not our problem” with the events in the Old Port area of Marseille. The two stadiums have been impressive, the access to the Stade de Nice less so but what do UEFA really care about that? We now sit and wait to see what happens later in the week, hoping there’s something still standing for my last two games in the tournament in Lens and Lille next week.

Five things from….France 0 Germany 1


We had a bet at home that the 1982 Battiston incident would be mentioned within 30 seconds of the TV coverage. We were wrong – it was 45 seconds and then it seemed every 10 minutes under Jonathan Pearce’s commentary. He did tell us though that Germany have never won the World Cup wearing anything but black shorts.  Thanks JP.

In terms of intrigue, this game promised a lot. Neither team were particularly fancied in the run up to the tournament. Both teams themselves would have played down their chances, claiming their young squads needed a tournament more under their belts for experience.  Whilst France comfortably brushed aside Nigeria in the Second Round, Germany were taken to extra time by an impressive Algeria, whose never-say-die spirit would have sapped the Germans energy.  Couple that with a Lasagne-gate style illness in the camp and you would have to say France came into the game as favourites.

1. Ridiculous ceremony – Why subject the players to all of this ceremony and public displays of unity on important areas of racism and homophobia when if someone is found guilty they will get a risible fine and a pathetic slap on the wrist.  How do you stamp it out of the game?  By throwing the book at offenders. Making players stand behind a sign has what effect exactly?

photo 4 (5)2. Camera angels – I am in love with that camera that zooms across the pitch at grass level as the teams walk out…I want to see more of those camera angles during the game, tracking the runs of the players.  Apart from the annoying super slow motion replays I think the camera work in the tournament has been outstanding.  Loved the little interlude of the shot of the stadium and Christ the Redeemer as well.

3. Jaunty yellow boots – The French and their fashion style.  Just seven of the starting line up sported the bright yellow boots, and three had the dual colour ones made by…..oh yes, Nike.  At least they haven’t decided to both play in their away kits tonight.

4. Official top stats – David Luiz is the top player of the World Cup, according to FIFA stats.  What tournament have they been watching? Betting sites do not even have him in the top ten – in fact Jozy Altidore at 500/1 is ahead of him.  He has been his usual inconsistent self in the middle of an inconsistent defence.

5. Girl cam – The TV producer must have been snoozing for this game because it took them a full 26 minutes before we had the gratuitous shot of the pretty girl in the crowd.  This time, it was a French lass, looking very pensive who, when she saw she was on TV, gave a nonchalant flick of her hair.

The Beer World Cup

No content here – a fridge-full of German beer with one of the little “stubbies” of Saint Omer beer.  Stick to chocolate, wine and cheese.  The better team won on and off the pitch. Even armed with a Becks Vier this was a walk over.

Germany 4 France 0

 

Five things from….France 2 Nigeria 0


The big question before this game was which Nigeria team would turn up.  They had stumbled through the group, flattering to deceive in their single win against Bosnia, yet putting on a real show in the 3-2 defeat to Argentina.  Once again, it seemed that their build up to the game was being derailed by talks of player bonuses, or the lack of them.  Of course, the fact they are representing their country on the biggest stage in the world isn’t enough for some players.

The 5pm games during the working week serve up a big dilemma as to when I should go home.  I’d love to say that my 3g/4g network in London is good enough to support even radio commentary but alas I am still tied to EE/T-Mobile (they change their name in rotation to blame each other for poor service) I struggle to raise an analogue signal on my way home.

1. Why play a centre-forward on the wing? – Benzema is a decent centre-forward with pace and a goal every 3 games ratio at international level.  So what was going through Dechamps mind when he stuck him on the wing?  Even (even!) Rio Ferdinand saw that was a strange move when analysing the first half. He hardly got a sniff of the ball in that first period, but after the break when he was let loose as a traditional centre-forward he caused the Nigerians all sorts of issues, and can feel aggrieved his second half effort that was cleared off the line hadn’t given the French the lead.

2. France away kit again – So I know I was banging on about this last week but it really bugs me.  Why do they need to wear the off-white away kit?  What colour clash could there be with a lime green kit?  Called me an old cynic but I have a feeling that a certain US sportswear company may have a say in what kit is worn.

3. John Obi-Mikel – What exactly does he offer any team?  He has always been the poor man’s Dechamps, Makalele, Essien with a poor disciplinary record.  But on at international level he takes wandering around letting the play pass him by to a new level.

4. Celebrating an own goal – On first watch we all thought that was a smart little flick by Griezmann to seal the win in the last minute.  He wheeled away, arms stretched out to receive the congratulations of Valbuena.  But he hadn’t scored.  He didn’t even get a lucky touch.  The ball hit Yobo’s knee and went in.  Man up and give credit where credit is due.

5. France are the new France – They are going to win it…you all know that deep down.  Unfancied before the tournament, slowly progressing towards a semi-final win against Brazil and then beating Argentina in the final.

Beer World Cup

Obvious (!) no beers whilst I was still at work, or on the train home but as soon as I walked through the door I had a 1664 thrust in my hand.  With no Guinness Export left it was a comfortable win for the French.

France 2 Nigeria 0

Five things from….France 0 Ecuador 0


After a few days of work getting in the way of the World Cup, normal service can finally return to normal.  France, everyone’s not surprising surprise so far in the tournament versus Ecuador, a country that apparently only 1% of Americans can successfully locate on a map of the world.  Nobody gave the French a hope of a run into the latter stages of the World Cup based on their qualifying form that saw them 2-0 after the first leg of the play-off against Ukraine. But thanks to a kind draw and an attacking style they have almost secured a second round place before the referee took the ball off the plinth. Eight years ago Italy passed under the radar to win the World Cup – could France repeat the feat this year?

photo 3 (23)1. Why are France wearing away shirts again – So in the last game they played Switzerland (in red) and changed kit.  Tonight they are playing a team in yellow and again changed kit.  For those watching in black and white it must have been a difficult job.  I can only see one reason as to why they were playing in white – Nike told them too, or am I just being too cynical?

2.”You can’t get away with anything” – So says Gary Neville in seeing a replay of the Ecuadorian defender smashing an elbow into a forward’s face out of sight of the referee.  Sorry Gary but he has got away with it, and as Ecuador look like they are going out, any retrospective look at the incident and applying a ban seems pointless.

3. Illegal hair nets – Now that just looks bloody silly! Why did they think that putting a hair net on Noboa’s cut head would actually stop the bleeding.  All that happened is it made him look like Hilda Ogden.   Surely FIFA need to take action against these hair nets that aren’t in the same colours as the rest of the kit?

4. Valencia – What has happened to Antonio Valencia during the past few weeks?  He was awful in Miami against England and lost his cool against Sterling and in this tournament he has been a liability.  Lucky not to be sent off in the previous game and then an awful tackle tonight saw him rightly sent off.  Great example as a captain.

5. Cheating – Final seconds of the game, Ecuador need two goals to go through and they have a corner.  Did nobody else not see the ball was a foot or so outside the D?  Where is the video technology to stop this blatant cheating?

Five things from….France 3 Honduras 0


The title should read “Five things from the First Half of France v Honduras” as I am currently watching the game from the lounge in Gatwick waiting for a flight to the Middle East. Nothing much will happen in the second half, right?  No controversial incidents or commentating faux pas? But that does mean the Beer World Cup has been suspended once again, as despite the opulence of the Emirates lounge, they are rather lacking on beer, or any spirit at all from Honduras. Luxury airline? You are having a laugh! (Before I get downgraded, that last comment was a joke. Top service from top airline).

photo (1)I have a funny feeling about France this year. Whenever they are hyped up they crash catastrophically, normally with massive collateral damage. But this time they have passed relatively un-noticed under the radar on their way to Brazil and now line up in a group that has been thrown wide open by Switzerland’s last gasp win over Ecuador. Honduras wont be a push over, as England found two weeks ago in Miami but the decision to not start with Giroud did seem strange.

Honduras liked up with the fantastically named “Costly” in their starting XI – how long before the commentator could slip in “that’ll be Costly for Honduras” ? 2 Minutes?

1. Bloody Tottenham – France became the millionth team in the World Cup to field a player who was either formerly with Spurs, or was still there now. Not sure whether this is a hallmark of quality or badge of shame? In this case, Hugo Lloris has earned his “spurs” this season.

2. Oops – Did someone forget the music? No national anthems were played in the stadium – conspiracy theories abound. Has the PA system broken (in which case isn’t that a bit of a safety issue?)? Someone stole the CD? The French players went on strike? At least it’s something to talk about at half-time if this game turns out to be the first dud of the tournament.

3. There’s no need for that! – sooner or later it was bound to happen – a team going postal, and that Central American temperament came to the fore in a feisty first period that eventually saw Palacios red carded. Surprised it took so long actually.

4. Studio experts….and Robbie Savage – Vieira and Henry. Two players who have won every honour at club and country level under the sun, respected by their peers and by fans globally. And then there’s Savage who did once win the Worthington Cup…guess whose voice is the loudest, trying to get their opinion over?

5. Big H – You can’t talk about Honduras without mentioning the big H on their shirts. Depending on the game it can either stand for Heroes, for qualifying for the World Cup, or horrible based on their mistimed tackles. No surprises what it stood for tonight.

Beer World Cup

With no Honduran-based alcohol in the lounge at Gatwick a decision was made that Magners had decided to become duel nationality and adopt it’s Honduran roots. In a tightly fought contest it earned a scrappy draw with Kronenburg 1664.

France 1 Honduras 1

A Lille bit of Leuven


Two games, one day, two countries?  No problems at all for the Daggers Diary team.

In each of the last two years, Dagenham Dan, Neil and I have ventured into Northern Europe for a weekend of football. Over the last two years, we have managed to attend games in four different countries, or like last year, we attended four top flight games in Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.

This year though, we weren’t sure if we would be able to do the trip. Neil had taken a new job, which meant that holidays might be difficult. Added to that was a lot going on at our respective workplaces (as well as cost) and our February trip was eventually, and reluctantly cancelled.

Well it was until a couple of weeks ago. Dan sent round an email about resurrecting the trip over the regulation three days, and had managed to get five games into the time allowed. While none of us really had the cash to spend, we each reckoned that we could do it, but at a push. Eventually, sense prevailed and once again we had to abandon the idea of three days away. But a one day trip? Well, that might work, and so it is how we find ourselves on the Eurostar from Folkestone bound for Calais at 8am on a Sunday morning, before a couple of hours drive to Leuven in Belgium for our first game on our european day out.

With our normal three day trip postponed until later in the year, it meant that we could attend our own clubs games on Saturday. Dan and I suffered as Plymouth won 2-1 at Victoria Road, while Neil was at Brentford to watch Wolves win 3-0.

Of course, no trip can be truly incident free, but those that we have been on before have generally gone well, with maybe one minor mishap. This time, we had a real winner. Having arrived at Folkestone, we were waiting for Neil to arrive at the arranged time of 7am. We all stocked up on drinks and chocolate from the shop, Neil filled up the fuel tank of his car upon arrival and we moved back to the main car park in preparation of our journey. Then the bomb dropped; Neil had forgotten his passport. With our train crossing at 8.20, and with Neil living at least an hour away, it looked as though we were scuppered before we had even left the country. Dan was on the phone to Eurotunnel trying to rearrange our crossing, but the offices didn’t open until 8am, so out came the iPad. Neil was apologetic, and reckoned we should press on without him, but we do these things as a group, and we weren’t about to go without him. So Neil went back home to retrieve e errant document while Dan (having successfully sorted out our train to France) and I stayed in the service station.

It’s a strange feeling, being in a service station ridiculously early on a Sunday morning. It’s almost like a portal between the sleeping world and the awake one, with neither quite sure how to behave until one takes the lead. As we reach our intended (but now delayed) departure time, the services are starting to come alive.

Sunday 23rd February 2014, O.H. Leuven v Club Brugge

Once Neil had returned, we immediately headed toward the train terminal. Having rearranged our train for a later time, we were fortunate enough to basically just drive straight on to a train and after thinking that we might have troubles, we were on our way to Leuven. The two hour drive to Leuven is passed quite quickly, through the fields and towns of Northern France. Continue reading